Cornelius Tacitus

The Annals

Book III: I-XXXIV - The trial of Gnaeus Piso, War in North Africa


History of Rome and the Roman people, from its origin to the establishment of the Christian empire - Victor Duruy (1811 - 1894) (p743, 1884)
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Book III:I Agrippina arrives at Brindisi

Without pause in sailing the wintry seas, Agrippina reached (AD20) the island of Corfu (Corcyra) opposite the Calabrian coast. There she spent some days composing her thoughts, being frantic with grief and unused to enduring it.

Meanwhile, hearing of her arrival, her closest friends and many of the officers who had served under Germanicus hurried to Brindisi (Brundisium), the nearest and safest landing place in Italy for the voyager. Many strangers, even, gathered from the neighbouring towns, some out of respect for the emperor and many others following their example.

On first sighting her flotilla in the roads, not only the harbour and sea-wall, but the city defences and roofs, all locations from which a good view was commanded, were crowded with mourners, questioning as to whether to greet her arrival in silence or with cries of emotion. Still unsure as to what the occasion required, they saw the vessels gradually approach, not with a flourish of oars as usual, but all sorrowfully composed.

As she came ashore with her two children, she with lowered gaze and clasping the funeral urn, they groaned as one, relatives and strangers, men and women alike, except that Agrippina’s attendants, exhausted with endless grieving, were exceeded in their lamentations by the fresh mourners they met.

Book III:II Germanicus’ ashes escorted to Rome

Tiberius sent two praetorian cohorts to order that, in addition, the magistrates of Calabria, Apulia and Campania were to offer their last respects to the memory of his son. The urn with his ashes was therefore borne on the shoulders of tribunes and centurions; the unadorned standards went before him, and the axes reversed; and whenever they passed through a colony the populace in mourning garb with the knights in their robes striped with purple burned vestments, perfumes and the customary funeral gifts, according to the wealth of the locality. Even those from distant towns met the procession, and sacrificed on altars erected to the departed spirit, witnessing to their grief with tears and wailing.

Drusus the Younger journeyed out to Terracina (Tarracina) with Germanicus’ brother Claudius (the future emperor) and those of Germanicus’ children who had remained at Rome. The consuls Marcus Valerius Messalla and Marcus Aurelius Cotta who had already begun their magistracy (AD20), the senators, and a large section of the populace filled the roadside, in scattered groups, weeping at will though showing no signs of adulation, since it was known to all that Tiberius could scarcely conceal his joy at Germanicus’ death.

Book III:III Antonia’s non-appearance in public   

Tiberius and his mother Livia avoided public appearances, either considering it below their dignity to lament openly, or realising that if all eyes were to scrutinise their features too closely hypocrisy might be read there.

I cannot discover, either from the historians or the official journals, that Antonia Minor, Germanicus’ mother, took any significant role in the ceremonies, though his other relatives by blood, in addition to Agrippina, Drusus the Younger, and Claudius, are listed by name. Perhaps her health prevented her, or overcome by grief her mind could not endure sights that witnessed to the magnitude of her loss, but I find it simpler to believe that Tiberius and Livia, who did not leave the palace, kept her with them, in order to set their mourning on a par, the grandmother and the uncle detained at home in accord with the mother’s example.

Book III:IV Germanicus’ ashes interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus

The day on which the remains were interred in the Mausoleum of Augustus was by turns made desolate by silence and troubled by tears; the streets of the city were full, the Field of Mars alight with torches. There soldiers in full armour, magistrates without their insignia, and citizens in their tribes cried out, too openly and readily for it to be believed that they had a thought for those in power, that the state lay in ruins, and no hope was left.

Nothing, however, wounded Tiberius more deeply than the blaze of enthusiasm for Agrippina among the populace, she whom they termed the glory of her country, the last of Augustus’s bloodline, sole pattern of ancient virtue and, turning to heaven and the gods, prayed that her children survived to outlive their enemies.

Book III:V Complaints as to the funeral display

There were those who missed the pomp of a state-funeral, and made a comparison with the honours and magnificence accorded by Augustus to Germanicus’ father, Drusus the Elder. Indeed Augustus himself had journeyed as far as Pavia (Ticinum), in deepest winter, and never quitting the corpse was alongside it as it entered the capital. The bier had been surrounded with effigies of the Claudians and Livians; there was weeping in the Forum, praise from the Rostra, every tribute our ancestors devised or posterity had invented was heaped upon him; but to Germanicus had fallen not even the honours due to each and every nobleman.

Yes, the length of the journey was reason to cremate the body on foreign soil, and in whatever manner, but he should have been granted all the more tributes later, since chance had denied them at the outset. His brother had not travelled a day to meet him, his uncle not even to the gate. Where were those customs of the ancients, an image at the head of the couch, erudite poems to departed virtue, the eulogies and tears or at least the pretence of sorrow?

Book III:VI Tiberius calls for restraint

All this Tiberius was aware of; and to suppress public comment he warned them by edict that many were the illustrious Romans who had died for their country, yet none of them had been glorified by such fervent longing. If restraint were observed, then it would be highly acceptable to himself and to all. For the same conduct did not become powerful princes and an imperial people as well as it did ordinary households and cities.

Mourning and the solace of grief had suited their sorrow at its inception; but now they must address their minds to firmness, banishing sorrow as the divine Julius had done after the loss of his only daughter (Julia), and the divine Augustus when robbed of his grandchildren (Gaius and Lucius).

There was scant need to quote examples to show how often the Roman people had calmly endured the destruction of armies, the death of generals, the utter extinction of noble families. Princes were mortal, the State eternal. Let them return to normal life, and since the Megalesian Games would soon be enacted (April 4th-10th), let them even resume their entertainments.

Book III:VII Outcry against Piso, the death of Martina

With the cessation of business at an end, there was a return to official duty, and Drusus the Younger set out for the armies of Illyricum. All spirits rose in expectation of taking vengeance on Piso, and many complained that he was, meanwhile, wandering the pleasant reaches of Asia and Achaia, allowing the evidence of his crimes to perish by sly and arrogant delay.

For news had arrived that Martina, the notorious poisoner sent to Rome, as I said, by Gnaeus Sentius, had suddenly met her death at Brindisi, a poisonous substance being found concealed in a knot of her hair but with no marks on the body suggesting suicide.

Book III:VIII Piso sends his son to Tiberius

But Piso, sending his son on to Rome with a message to mollify the emperor, had made his way to Drusus, whom he hoped to find less angered at his brother’s death than warm towards himself at being freed from a rival. Tiberius, to display the impartiality of justice, received the young man courteously, with the liberality he was accustomed to show to the sons of noble families.

Drusus’ answer to Piso himself, was that if the accusations were true his indignation would be greater than all others; but he preferred to think them false and unfounded, and Germanicus’ death fatal to none. This was said openly, dispensing with all secrecy, and was no doubt spelled out by Tiberius, since the straightforward and good natured youth here employed all the artifice of maturity.

Book III:IX Piso and Plancina travel to Rome

Piso, having crossed the Adriatic and disembarked at Ancona, travelled through Picenum and took the Flaminian Road where he met up with a legion marching from Pannonia to Rome to join the Africa garrison in due course; an event which provoked gossip since he took care to display his presence to the soldiers both on the march and at the roadside.

From Narnia (Narni) he sailed down the Nar, either to avoid suspicion or with the inconsistent planning of a frightened man. He then descended the Tiber, adding to popular anger by docking his vessel at the Mausoleum of the Caesars, on the busy river-bank on a busy day, and proceeding onwards, himself with a column of clients, Plancina with a retinue of women, and all with smiling faces. Among further unpopular irritants were the festive decorations on his mansion, looming over the Forum, and a banquet with guests held with no concealment and in a crowded place.

Book III:X Piso prosecuted

The next day, Fulcinius Trio applied for a writ before the consuls, to prosecute Piso. Vitellius, Veranius and others of Germanicus’ former suite argued against this on the basis that Trio had no role in the matter, and that they according to Germanicus’ own instructions made no accusations but were simply eyewitnesses and could testify as to the facts. His right to lay an accusation being dismissed on that account, he received permission to lay charges regarding Piso’ prior behaviour in office, and requested the case be brought before the emperor.

Even the defendant agreed to this, fearing the predispositions of the populace and the senators; while Tiberius he knew had the strength of mind to scorn rumour, and shared Livia’s private knowledge. Besides, a single judge could more easily discern truth from mere imputations of wrongdoing, while hatred and envy carry weight with a greater number. Tiberius was hardly unaware of the awkwardness of an enquiry, and the rumours concerning himself. Summoning a few close friends, he therefore heard the charges brought by the prosecution and the pleas made by the defence, himself, before referring the whole matter to the Senate.

Book III:XI Piso’s case brought before the Senate

In the interim, Drusus had returned from Illyricum, and the Fathers had granted him a minor triumph on arrival, to celebrate Maroboduus’ submission and his own achievements during the previous summer, but postponing that honour he made his way into the city.

The defendant now sought as his advocates Lucius Arruntius, Publius Vinicius, Asinius Gallus, Marcellus Aeserninus and Sextus Pompeius. They declined on various pretexts, and Manius Lepidus, Lucius Piso, and Livincius Regulus offered their support, with the whole populace commenting on the fidelity of Germanicus’ friends, the defendant’s self-assurance, and whether Tiberius would really be able to suppress and contain his feelings.

Never had the people shown keener interest, nor allowed themselves such secretive murmuring or mistrustful silence regarding their emperor.

Book III:XII Tiberius’ opening address

On the day of the session, Tiberius gave a speech of studied moderation. Piso had been his father’s legate and friend, and had been assigned to Germanicus by Tiberius himself, at the Senate’s instigation, to administer affairs in the East. Whether Piso had merely exasperated the young prince with his obstinacy and contentiousness, and then shown delight at his demise, or whether he had wickedly sought his death, they must consider with open minds: for if a legate had gone beyond the bounds of his office, and failed in deference towards his superior, and then had taken pleasure in the death and Tiberius’ own grief, he would denounce him and banish him from his house, without employing imperial power; but if a crime were uncovered involving the death of any person whatsoever then indeed they must make proper requital to the children of Germanicus and to himself as parent.

At the same time, they should consider whether Piso’s handling of the army had encouraged disorder and sedition, whether he had sought to curry favour with the men, had reclaimed the province by force, or were these false charges broadcast and exaggerated by his accusers, by whose excess of zeal he himself was rightly irritated. For what had been the purpose of stripping the corpse naked and exposing it to the common gaze, or spreading the report amongst foreigners that he been slain by poisoning, if that was as yet uncertain and required investigation?

‘Of course I weep for my son and always will’, he continued, ‘but I would not hinder the defendant from offering every shred of evidence which might support his innocence, or reveal Germanicus to be guilty of injustice if that were the case, and I beg you not to accept an assertion of wrongdoing as proof of such, merely because the case is bound up with my own grief. 

If blood relationship or a sense of loyalty renders you Piso’s advocates, let each aid him in his hour of need with whatever eloquence and devotion he commands; and I exhort his accusers to exercise the same effort and constancy. This is the sole concession, above and beyond the usual legal framework, that we grant Germanicus, that the enquiry into his death be held in the Curia and not the Forum, and before the Senate and not the bench; let the rest of the proceedings show the like restraint. Let none pay regard to Drusus’ tears nor my grief, nor anything imagined as seeming hostile to us.’

Book III:XIII The case for the prosecution

Accordingly, two days was allocated for presenting the charges and, after a space of six days, the defence was to occupy a further three. Fulcinius then opened with an old and irrelevant account of Piso’s ambitions and avarice as displayed in Spain; which allegations could do the defendant little harm if the more recent ones were refuted, nor would it gain him an acquittal if found guilty of the more serious ones.

Servaeus, Veranius and Vitellius followed, with like fervour, Vitellius with great eloquence, arguing that Piso, in his hatred of Germanicus and eagerness for change, had so corrupted the lower ranks, through his tolerance of indiscipline and the mistreatment of civilians, that the very worst of them called him the Father of the Legions; while on the contrary he had acted in a savage manner towards the best of them, especially Germanicus’ friends and associates; ultimately murdering the prince himself, by the practice of magic and the use of poison; ungodly rites performed and sacrifices offered by Piso himself and by Plancina had followed and an armed attack against the State, and only Piso’s defeat in battle had enabled him to be brought to trial.

Book III:XIV The case for the defence

The defence had conceded all but one of these charges, since his courting favour with the troops, abandoning the province to the acts of miscreants, and even insulting his commander could not be denied: only the accusation of poisoning appeared to have been rebutted, it being indeed insufficiently proven by his accusers who argued that, at dinner with Germanicus, Piso, who was seated higher up the table, himself added the substance to Germanicus’ food. 

It certainly seems absurd that he would have dared to do so among unfamiliar servants, with so many eyes on him, and in Germanicus’ presence; while the defendant had suggested his own servants, and demanded that those at the banquet, be put to the question. However, for various reasons, his judges were implacable; Tiberius because Piso had made war on the province, the Senate because it never quite believed that Germanicus had died without foul play…and a request to examine the written correspondence was rejected as strongly by Tiberius as by Piso.

At that moment, a crowd was heard shouting, at the doors of the Senate, that they would not hesitate to use force if he evaded sentencing by the Fathers. They had already dragged his statues to the Gemonian Stairs, and were about to dismember him in effigy, when by imperial command the images were rescued and replaced.

Piso was placed in a litter and escorted to his house by a tribune of the praetorian guard, followed by conflicting rumours that the guard was either there for his safety or to ensure his death.

Book III:XV Piso’s last appearance and his suicide

Plancina, though equally hated, enjoyed greater favour; so that it was considered doubtful to what degree Tiberius would be allowed to move against her. While she herself, as long as there was hope of an intervention in Piso’s case, promised to share his fate whatever the result, and be his companion in death if that was the outcome. But having obtained her pardon through Livia’s personal intercession, she gradually distanced herself from her husband, employing an independent defence.

Realising this was fatal to him, the defendant was doubtful as to further effort, but exhorted to do so by his sons, he steeled himself and once more attended the Senate. Enduring renewed accusations, the senators’ hostile cries, and fierce opposition on all sides, nothing terrified him more than the sight of Tiberius, without pity or anger, firmly closed to any access of feeling.

Piso was carried home, wrote for a little while, as if composing his defence for the following day, sealed the document, and handed it to his freedman; then gave the usual attention to his person. Finally, late at night, when his wife had left the bedroom, he ordered the door closed; and was found at first light, with his throat cut, and his sword lying on the floor. 

Book III:XVI His letter asking leniency for his son Gnaeus

I remember hearing, from my seniors, that they had more than once seen a document in Piso’s hands, whose contents he did not disclose, which his friends claimed was written by Tiberius and contained instructions regarding Germanicus, and that Piso had resolved to produce it before the Fathers, and lay the blame on Tiberius, but was persuaded to refrain from this by Sejanus’ empty promises. Nor did they believe his death was self-inflicted, rather an assassin had been employed. I remain neutral on that point, but I felt it right not to conceal the tale told by those who were still alive in my youth.

With a sad expression on his face, Tiberius expressed his regret before the Senate at Piso’s mode of death…and questioned Piso’s son, Gnaeus, closely on how his father had spent his last day and night. Gnaeus acquitted himself well for the most part, with few indiscretions, and read out a plea written by Piso, to the following effect:

‘Attacked by a hostile conspiracy, and a hatred born of false accusations, and in so far as there is no platform here for truth and innocence, Caesar, I swear before the immortal gods, that I have lived as one loyal towards you and in no way less dutiful towards your mother; I beg you both to care for my children, Gnaeus having had no involvement in my actions, since he has spent the whole time in Rome, while Marcus exhorted me not to return to Syria.

  I wish indeed that I had yielded to my younger son, rather than him yielding to me. I pray therefore, most earnestly, that he, the innocent, may not be punished for my depravity. By my allegiance of forty-five years, by the consulate we held together (in 7BC), as one accepted by the deified Augustus, your father, and as your friend who after this request will ask no more, I beg the life of my unfortunate son.’ Of Plancina, he wrote nothing.

Book III:XVII Cotta proposes the punishment for Piso’s sons

Tiberius then acquitted Marcus, the younger son, of waging civil war, since the son was under the father’s orders and could not disobey. At the same time he expressed his sorrow for a noble house and the fate of the father, a sad one regardless of his merits or otherwise.

Pleading Livia’s entreaties, he next spoke, in an embarrassed and shame-faced manner, in support of Plancina, regarding whom private criticism by decent people was growing ever warmer. ‘It seems it is perfectly respectable, then,’ they complained, ‘for a grandmother to see and speak with her grandson’s murderess, and protect her from the Senate! What the law extends to any citizen, is denied to Germanicus alone. Vitellius and Veranius employ their voices in lamenting Germanicus, Tiberius and Livia in defending Plancina. Why not then use these poisons and these arts, now so well proven, against Agrippina, against the children, so this delightful grandmother and uncle may sate themselves with the blood of the whole unfortunate house!’

Two days were spent on this shadow trial, with Tiberius urging Piso’s sons to defend Plancina. And as the prosecutors and witnesses competed in their perorations with none to answer them, compassion rather than indignation began to win the day. First judgement was sought from the consul Aurelius Cotta (since, with Tiberius presiding, that official was the one who discharged the function) who proposed that the name Piso be erased from the record and that half his property be appropriated, the remainder being granted to his elder son, Gnaeus, who must change his name; that Marcus, the younger son, being stripped of his rank and suffering a fine of fifty thousand gold pieces, be banished for ten years; and that Plancina, at Livia’s request, be granted immunity.

Book III:XVIII Tiberius mitigates sentence

Much of this sentence was reduced by the emperor: Piso’s name should not be erased from the record, when those of Mark Antony who had waged war on his own country, and Iullus Antonius who had violated Augustus’ hearth, remained. He saved Marcus Piso from ignominy, and granted him his inheritance, being proof enough, as I have often said, against financial temptation, and more lenient in the matter given his embarrassment at acquitting Plancina.

In the same vein, when Valerius Messalinus proposed raising a golden statue in the temple of Mars the Avenger, and Caecina Severus an altar to Vengeance, he rejected their suggestions, saying such things were dedicated after foreign victories, domestic ills should be veiled in sorrow. Messalinus added that Tiberius, Livia, Antonia, Agrippina and Drusus should be thanked for their actions in avenging Germanicus.

He omitted to mention Claudius. Indeed, after Lucius Asprenas openly questioned in the Senate whether the omission was deliberate, only then was the name of Claudius added. The more I reflect on past and present events, the more I am haunted by a sense of the ironic nature of all human affairs. For indeed, as regards reputation, respect or expectation all men were sooner destined for imperial power than that future emperor whom fate kept in the shadows.

Book III:XIX The affair dies down

A few days afterwards, Tiberius was author of a Senate motion conferring priesthoods on Vitellius, Veranius and Servaeus, and promised Fulcinius his support as a candidate for office, though warning him lest impetuosity impaired his eloquence.

Thus ended the punishments regarding Germanicus’ death, which not only among those who witnessed it but in times to follow was the source of endless rumour. Indeed the greatest events are enigmatic: some treat hearsay, whatever its nature, as solid evidence, while others change truth to its opposite, and posterity exaggerates both.

Drusus, who left the capital to resume his command, soon re-entered to an ovation. A few days later, his mother Vipsania died, the only one of Agrippa’s adult offspring who ended peacefully: for the rest perished openly by the sword or, it is believed, by poison or starvation.

Book III:XX Tacfarinas resumes hostilities in North Africa

In that same year, Tacfarinas, whose defeat by Camillus the previous summer I have mentioned, renewed hostilities in North Africa, initially by scattered raids, too swift for reprisals, then by the destruction of villages and serious depredation; ultimately besieging a Roman cohort not far from the River Pagyda. Decrius, an energetic commander and experienced campaigner, oversaw the defence, and considered it shameful to be surrounded. After exhorting his men, he positioned his lines in front of the camp in order to deploy his force in the open.

 His cohort being driven back in the first attack, he darted heedlessly among the missiles stemming the retreat, cursing the standard-bearers for allowing Roman soldiers to turn their backs on a bunch of raw recruits and deserters; at that time he received a blow, and though wounded in the eye, turned to face the enemy and continued to fight until he fell, abandoned by his men.

The Battle of Vercellae

‘The Battle of Vercellae’
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696 – 1770)
The Met

Book III:XXI The Numidians defeated

When Lucius Apronius, Camillus’ successor, heard the news, he was more troubled by the disgrace to his own troops than by the enemy’s success, and employing a rarely-used measure that recalled past times decimated the dishonoured cohort, drawing lots before flogging every tenth man to death.

So effective was this act of severity, that a company of veterans, not more than five hundred in number, routed that same force belonging to Tacfarinas when it attacked the garrison at a place named Thala (in Tunisia). During the fighting, Helvius Rufus, a private, earned the distinction of saving a Roman life, and was awarded the torques and the headless spear by Apronius. Tiberius added the civic crown (of oak-leaves), an action prompted by his regret at the omission rather than displeasure, the proconsul despite his powers not having granted the same.

Tacfarinas, with the Numidians discouraged and scorning siege warfare, opted for sporadic attacks, yielding when pressed then returning to harass the rear-guard. And, while these were the barbarian’s tactics, he taunted the tired and ineffectual Romans with impunity. But when he turned to the coastal areas, burdened with plunder he was tied to static encampments, and Apronius Caesianus was sent out by his father, with cavalry and auxiliaries enhanced by the swiftest legionaries, and fought a successful battle against the Numidians, driving them into the desert. 

Book III:XXII Lepida arraigned on various charges

At Rome, Lepida, who as well as the honour of being of the Aemilian family was a great grand-daughter of both Sulla and Pompey, was accused by her ex-husband, the rich and childless Publius Quirinius, of pretending to have previously given birth. Added to this were accusations of adultery, of poisoning, and of consulting astrologers concerning the line of Caesars (a treasonable offence), the defence being undertaken by her brother, Manius Aemilius Lepidus. Quirinius’ behaviour had generated a degree of sympathy for the woman, despite her disgrace and her guilt, because of his continued hostility after their divorce. 

It is difficult to discern Tiberius’ thoughts on the matter, he so alternated and varied his displays of anger or clemency. First, he asked the Senate not to proceed with the treason charges, then he tricked Marcus Servilius, the ex-consul, and a number of other witnesses, into volunteering information about which they would rather have remained silent. At the same time, he had Lepida’s servants, who were held in military custody, transferred to the consuls and prevented their being interrogated under torture on any matters pertinent to his family.

Again, he exempted his son, Drusus, as consul designate, from handing down the initial judgement; which was thought considerate by the rest, since it absolved others of the necessity of assenting, but by some was ascribed to his relentlessness: since in fact Drusus merely avoided any responsibility for condemning her.

Book III:XXIII Lepida banished

During the Games, which had interrupted the trial, Lepida visited the Theatre of Pompey, with a number of noblewomen, where, lamenting and weeping and invoking her ancestors, including Pompey himself whom the building commemorated, whose statues they could see before them, she elicited so much compassion that the crowd shed tears while shouting fiercely in execration of Quirinius, to whose years and childlessness and most insignificant of houses might be sacrificed a woman once destined to be the wife of Lucius Caesar and daughter-in-law to Augustus.

But then, with the torture of her slaves, her guilt was confirmed, and Rubellius Blandus’ verdict, by which she was ‘denied fire and water’. Drusus supported her banishment, though others argued for leniency. It was later decided, as a concession to Scaurus who had fathered a son with her, that her estate not be confiscated. Only then did Tiberius reveal that he had learnt from Quirinius’ own slaves of Lepida’s attempt to poison her accuser.

Book III:XXIV Decimus Silanus returns from exile

There was solace for these mishaps to such illustrious houses (since with barely a pause the Calpurnians had lost Piso and the Aemilians Lepida) in the return of the exiled Decimus Silanus to the Julian family. His story is worth repeating.

As kind as fortune was to the divine Augustus in public affairs, it was less favourable at home, through the scandalous behaviour of Julia the Elder, his daughter, and Julia the Younger, his grand-daughter, whom he banished from Rome, while sentencing their adulterers to death or exile. For, by calling the common sin among both sexes sacrilege and treason, he deviated from the clemency of the past, and from his own laws. Thus shall I record the fate of others, together with the rest of that age, if I achieve what I intend and expend my life in writing.

Decimus Silanus, the lover of Julia the Younger, Augustus’ grand-daughter, though subject to no greater severity than loss of imperial favour, accepted that a self-imposed exile was indicated, and only after Tiberius’ accession did he dare to appeal to the Senate and the emperor through the influence of his brother, Marcus Silanus, distinguished for his noble excellence and eloquence. But when Marcus expressed his thanks openly to the senators, Tiberius replied that he also was pleased that Marcus’ brother had returned from his foreign travels, and had the legal right to do so since he had not been banished by Senate decree or by the courts; and yet, he still felt all his father’s displeasure regarding him, and Decimus’ return did not cancel Augustus’ wishes in the matter. Decimus remained at Rome thereafter, but without holding office.

Book III:XXV The law against celibacy

It was then proposed that the Lex Papia Poppaea (AD9) be modified, this being the law that Augustus had enacted, late in his reign, following the earlier Lex Julia (18BC), to increase the penalties for celibacy, and swell the exchequer. It failed however to promote marriage and the raising of children, childlessness remaining prevalent.

On the other hand, there was an increase in those liable to prosecution, since every family was vulnerable to mischievous informers and once troubled by vice were now troubled by the courts. This prompts me to enter more deeply into the origins of the legal system and the process by which we arrived at our endless multitude and variety of laws.

Book III:XXVI The origins of the legal system

Primitive humanity, not yet given to wilfulness in its passions, lived without sense of shame or sin, and so without punishment or coercion. Incentives were not required when virtue was sought by instinct: and where nothing contrary to decency was desired, nothing was prohibited by threats.

But once equality was dispensed with, and ambition and power overtook modesty and a sense of honour, tyranny ensued, and has remained perpetual among many peoples. A few, however, either from the very beginning or becoming weary of kingship, chose the rule of law.

The first examples were the simple creation of inexperienced minds, the most celebrated being devised by Minos in Crete, Lycurgus in Sparta, and later by Solon in Athens, his laws being more thoroughly considered and more numerous.

As for ourselves, after Romulus had ruled without curb, Numa bound the people to religion and the divine laws, while Tullius and Anco devised others. It was above all Servius Tullius who was an enactor of legislation which even kings were obliged to obey.

Book III:XXVII Roman law: to Pompey’s third consulate

After the expulsion of Tarquin, the people framed many laws to restrain the factions in the Senate, to defend their freedoms and establish harmony, the Decemvirs (forming the Commission of Ten Men) were created and the Twelve Tables were composed (450BC), incorporating whatever was most celebrated, the ultimate authority for what was just. For the laws enacted later, though sometimes aimed at the perpetrators of wrongdoing, were more often exercises in power politics, based on conflict between the classes, to gain preferment unlawfully, banish distinguished men, or achieve some other evil end.

Hence our popular agitators, our Gracchi and Saturnini, and a Drusus bribing as widely as they in the name of the Senate (122BC); while our Italian allies were tempted by hope and taunted by veto. Not even war in Italy, soon turning to all-out civil war (91-88BC) could prevent extensive and conflicting legislation, until Sulla, as dictator (82BC), by changing or abolishing the older statutes and adding others, achieved stability but not for long, since the rogations of Lepidus (78BC) brought conflict, and not long after that the tribunes’ licence to cause trouble as they pleased was restored (70BC, by Pompey and Crassus).

Now laws were enacted not only for national but for purely individual reasons, and the laws were most numerous when the state was most corrupt.

Book III:XXVIII Roman law: to Tiberius and AD20

Then came Pompey, in his third consulate (52BC), with that choice reformer of morals applying remedies more painful than the disease and subverting the very laws he enacted, so losing by the sword what he had held by the sword (48BC). Twenty years of endless conflict followed, without justice or morality; when the worst acted with impunity, and virtue was the road to ruin. 

At last Augustus Caesar, in his seventh consulate (27BC), his power secure, abolished what the Triumvirate had enacted, and gave us laws to serve the peace and imperial rule. From that moment on, our bonds were tightened, spies were inflicted on us and, under the Papia-Poppaean law, motivated by reward, such that if a man refused the privilege bestowed on a father of bequeathing his estate, the state as universal parent would fulfil the vacant role.

But they went too far, until Rome, Italy, every corner of the empire was under siege, and the position of many became untenable. A reign of terror threatened, at which point Tiberius appointed as remedy five ex-consuls, five ex-praetors and an equal number of plain senators, all chosen by lot, who by untying many of the legal knots gave a measure of relief for the present.

Book III:XXIX Elevation of Germanicus’ son, Nero Julius

At about this time (AD20), Tiberius recommended Germanicus’ son, Nero Julius Caesar Germanicus (not the later emperor) who had now reached manhood, to the Senate, seeking his release from service in minor office (as a potential member of the Vigintivirate) and allowing him to seek a quaestorship five years before the minimum legal age (the twenty-fifth year), which prompted scorn among his hearers. 

He gave as his excuse that the same concessions had been granted to himself and his brother, at the request of Augustus. But even at that time, I imagine, some must have secretly ridiculed such a petition, despite the fact that the rule of the Caesars was still in its infancy, and previous ways of behaving were before men’s eyes, and the bond between stepfather and stepsons weighs less than that between grandfather and grandson.

Nero Julius also received a pontificate and on the first day of his entry to the Forum, free food was distributed to the masses, who were delighted at witnessing Germanicus’ offspring reach maturity. Their pleasure was enhanced by Nero Julius’ marriage to Drusus’ daughter Julia, though tempering the joy expressed at these events was their dislike for the nomination of Sejanus as the future father-in-law for Claudius’s son (Claudius Drusus). It was judged that the nobility of the ruling family had been sullied in granting too great an honour to Sejanus who was suspected even then of overweening ambition.

Book III:XXX Volusius Saturninus and Sallustius Crispus

At the end of that year, two illustrious Romans passed away, Lucius Volusius Saturninus and Sallustius Crispus. Volusius was of a distinguished line, that had never achieved more than the praestorship: he himself won it a consulate and, as well as acting on the commission which selected those knights fit for jury service, first accumulated the wealth that so invigorated his house.

Crispus, fathered by a member of the Equestrian order, was grandson to a sister of Gaius Sallustius (Sallust), that most brilliant of Roman historians who adopted him into his family and name. Thus, the road to high office was open to him but, rivalling Maecenas, he surpassed many who won triumphs or the consulate while never himself becoming a senator; his refinement and elegance contrasting with past manners, while his wealth and resources bordered on excess.

Yet beneath all this was a mental energy equal to great tasks, all the keener for concealment behind a display of somnolence and inertia. Such that, second to Maecenas while the latter lived, and later to none, the secrets of empire rested with him and he was even privy to the killing of Agrippa Postumus, though with advancing years he retained more the semblance than the reality of close friendship with the emperor. The same had befallen Maecenas, either because it is the fate of influence rarely to last forever, or because the moment comes when the one party has no more to give and the other has nothing left to desire.

Book III:XXXI Tiberius withdraws to Campania

Tiberius’ fourth consulate, and Drusus’ second, followed (AD21), a noble combination of father and son, the same partnership three years earlier of Germanicus and Tiberius having been neither so pleasing to the uncle, nor so closely tied by blood.

At the start of the year, Tiberius withdrew to Campania, ostensibly to restore his health while contemplating a gradual and prolonged absence or perhaps to impel Drusus to carry out his official duty alone with his father away.

Indeed it so happened that a minor event, which developed into a serious quarrel, granted the prince a nascent popularity. Domitius Corbulo, who held the praetorship, complained about a young nobleman, Lucius Sulla, who had not yielded his seat to him at the gladiatorial show. Corbulo’s age, the custom of the country, and the support of the older men spoke in his favour, while Mamercus Scaurus, Lucius Arruntius, and others of Sulla’s friends exerted themselves on Sulla’s behalf.

There was a verbal contest, the example of our ancestors’ being quoted whereby youthful irreverence was met with weighty decrees, which lasted until Drusus spoke so as to calm tempers, and Corbulo received an apology from Mamercus, who as well as being Sulla’s uncle and stepfather was the most fluent orator of his age.

 This same Corbulo made an outcry about the many roads throughout Italy that were ruined or impassable, owing to fraud on the part of the maintenance gangs, and the disinterest of the appropriate magistrates. He willingly undertook the burden of restitution, but the result was considered not nearly as useful to the public as it was harmful to the many whose wealth and repute suffered through ruthless prosecution and the forced sale of their assets.

Book III:XXXII Lepidus appointed to the governorship of Asia Minor

Not long after, the Senate learned, in a letter from Tiberius, that North Africa had again been troubled by an incursion of Tacfarinas’ devising, and that the senators were asked to use their judgement in selecting a proconsul expert in military affairs, and with a physical constitution robust enough for the campaign.

Sextus Pompeius initiated the discussion by attacking Marcus Lepidus, while displaying his hatred of him, accusing him of being idle, useless, a disgrace to his ancestors, and deserving of being excluded even from selection for Asian Minor. The Senate rejected this, considering Lepidus to be retiring rather than idle, his means being limited, and that bearing nobility without reproach was a badge of honour rather than shame.

Lepidus was therefore sent to Asia Minor, while as regards North Africa it was agreed that Tiberius should decide who might receive the post.

Book III:XXXIII Caecina Severus proposes wives be banned from official postings

During the debate, Aulus Caecina Severus proposed that no magistrate entering provincial office should be accompanied by his wife, explaining at prior length that he had a pleasing marriage partner who had borne him six children yet he himself had observed in private what he now prescribed for public life, and though he had served for forty years in one province or another she had always been confined to Italy.

There was some point, he claimed, in the old consensus that women not be taken to allied states or into foreign lands: in the retinue of a married woman there were those who entertained luxury in peacetime or their fears in wartime, such that a Roman march turned into something like an Oriental progress. Not only were they weak and unequal to hard work, but if allowed they turned harsh, ambitious, greedy for power. They strutted about among the men, held the centurions in the palm of their hands; recently a woman had even presided at military exercises, and the parade of the legions.

  They might like to consider how often when a governor was accused of extortion, the bulk of the accusations were against the wife. The most dubious of provincials immediately attached themselves to her, she it was who handled business affairs and completed transactions. There were two to be cultivated, two courts, and the more violent and headstrong orders came from the women, whom once the Oppian and other laws constrained, but who, now liberated, ruled house, law-court and army.

Book III:XXXIV The proposal rejected

A few listened to his speech with approval, most objected vociferously that there was no motion concerning the matter on the agenda, and that Caecina was no proper judge of such things. Valerius Messalinus, a son of Messala Corvinus and one in whom there existed some echo of his father’s eloquence, replied that much of the severity of former times had been altered for the better and that was welcome; for indeed, Rome was no longer besieged by armies, as it once was, nor were the provinces hostile.

A few necessary concessions were granted to women, but not such as to embarrass their husband’s houses, let alone our allies, the rest being shared with her spouse, and this caused no problem in peacetime. The latter must certainly be prepared to fight, but returning after his labours what was more fitting than a wife’s solace? What if a few sank into greed and intrigue? Were the magistrates themselves not liable to many and various lapses? Yet were they not still sent out to govern provinces?

Husbands were often corrupted by their wives’ depravities, was every bachelor then incorruptible? The Oppian laws were formerly agreed upon because in those days the republic required them, but afterwards it was beneficial to ease and relax them somewhat. It was wrong to call our own inertia by another title, for if the wife went beyond proper limits, it was the husband’s fault. Moreover, it was unfair that a husband should be separated from the partner who shared in his success and failure, through the faults attributable to only one or two, while the naturally weaker sex was left exposed to its own excesses, and the desires of others. Marriage could hardly be kept intact by confining people: what would happen if it were to be suspended for years in the manner of a divorce? And whilst they were moving to check abuses elsewhere, they might wish to remember the scandalous goings-on in Rome!

 Drusus then added a few comments regarding his own married life; for princes too often had to visit remote parts of the empire. Had not Augustus travelled many times to the East and West, with Livia as his companion? He had himself been in Illyricum, and if it was of benefit would go to other countries, yet not always with a calm mind if he were to be separated from the dearest of wives, the mother of the many children they shared.

Caecina’s proposal was therefore rejected.

End of the Annals Book III: I-XXXIV