Book VI: I-XXX - Tiberius increasingly despotic
History of Rome and the Roman people, from its origin to the establishment of the Christian empire - Victor Duruy (1811 - 1894) (p204, 1884)
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- Book VI:I Tiberius’ degenerate behaviour.
- Book VI:II Togonius’ security proposal.
- Book VI:III Action against Junius Gallio and Sextius Paconianus.
- Book VI:IV Accusations from Paconianus and Haterius.
- Book VI:V Cotta Messalinus indicted.
- Book VI:VI Tacitus, on guilty conscience.
- Book VI:VII Further accusations.
- Book VI:VIII Marcus Terentius defends past actions.
- Book VI:IX Yet more indictments.
- Book VI:X The purge continues.
- Book VI:XI The powers of the Urban Prefect.
- Book VI:XII Regarding the Sibylline Books.
- Book VI:XIII Problems with the corn supply.
- Book VI:XIV Conspiracy charges.
- Book VI:XV Germanicus’ daughters married – AD33.
- Book VI:XVI Action against usury.
- Book VI:XVII Problems with the money-supply.
- Book VI:XVIII Execution, exile, suicide.
- Book VI:XIX The death of Sextus Marius and vicious slaughter.
- Book VI:XX Regarding Caligula, and a prophecy concerning Galba.
- Book VI:XXI Thrasyllus’ oracular skills tested.
- Book VI:XXII Tacitus: on chance, choice and fate.
- Book VI:XXIII The deaths of Asinius Gallus and Drusus Julius.
- Book VI:XXIV Drusus’ curse.
- Book VI:XXV The death of Agrippina.
- Book VI:XXVI The deaths of Cocceius Nerva and Plancina.
- Book VI:XXVII The deaths of Aelius Lamia and Manius Lepidus.
- Book VI:XXVIII Tacitus: regarding the phoenix.
- Book VI:XXIX The suicides of Pomponius Labeo and Mamercus Scaurus.
- Book VI:XXX The accusers punished.
Gnaeus Domitius and Camillus Scribonianus having already entered on their consulships (AD32), Tiberius, crossing the strait between Capri and Sorrento, coasted along the shores of Campania, uncertain perhaps whether or not to enter the capital, or feigning a visit after deciding against one.
After frequent landings in its neighbourhood and a visit to the Gardens by the Tiber, he returned to his rocky isle and the solitude of the waves, himself shamed by his own wickedness and lust, whose unquenchable fires so inflamed him that, like some royal despot, he stained the children of the free-born with his lechery.
Beauty and physical charms were by no means his only incitements to desire, sometimes it was a boy’s modesty or his noble lineage. And now the terms sellarii and spintriae were coined, names previously unknown, one derived from a vile position they adopted, the other from their elasticity in submitting. Slaves were sent out to proposition the willing with gifts, or terrify the reluctant with menaces, and if a parent or relative refused compliance, they resorted to force, abduction, and the satisfaction of their own lusts, regarding their captives.
Meanwhile, in Rome, severe measures were spoken of regarding Livilla’s statues and her memory, as though her crimes were only recently discovered and not punished long before, while Sejanus’ property was to be released by the treasury then appropriated by the imperial estate, as though the two differed. Men of the rank of Scipio, Cassius and Silanus were speaking in support of these proposals, in similar or slightly altered terms and with great earnestness, when Togonius Gallus inserted his insignificant name among the great, only to be heard with derision.
For Togonius asked that senators be chosen, twenty of whom, drawn by lot and armed with weapons, were to defend the emperor’s safety whenever he entered the Senate House. He had indeed been taken in by Tiberius’ letter, which demanded the support of one of the consuls, that he might travel safely from Capri to Rome.
However, Tiberius, as usual blending the laughable and the serious, expressed thanks for the senators’ goodwill, while asking who were to be excluded and who selected, whether they were chosen forever or their places were to be taken by others now and then, and whether they were to be men who had been previously honoured or youngsters, private individuals or public officials. And what sort of a figure would they cut, taking up arms on the threshold of the Senate? Nor did he hold his life worth the price, he added, if it had to be protected by weapons.
This reply, temperate in its opposition to Togonius, argued only for the deletion of the proposal.
However, Junius Gallio, who had argued that praetorians leaving active service should gain the right to a theatre seat in the fourteen rows reserved for knights, was fiercely rebuked, as if Tiberius were addressing him to his face, for concerning himself with soldiers who had no right to accept any orders but their commander’s, nor any reward except from their commander. The divine Augustus, he said, had certainly never considered this invention of Gallio’s; or was he some follower of Sejanus seeking to sow discord and sedition, driving simple souls, on the pretext of rewarding them, to a breach of military discipline?
Such was Gallio’s prize for premeditated fawning: expulsion from the Senate, then all Italy; and because it was claimed he could easily endure exile in his chosen island of Lesbos, which was both civilised and pleasant, he was dragged back to Rome to be detained in the magistrates’ houses.
In the same letter, Tiberius lashed out at the former praetor, Sextius Paconianus, to the Senate’s great delight, he being audacious, of wicked intent, prying into all men’s secrets, and earlier chosen by Sejanus to help prepare his plot against Gaius Caesar. After which declaration, their long-nurtured hatred erupted, and the supreme penalty would have been decreed if he had not offered to turn State witness.
When indeed he began to speak of Latinius Latiaris, the accuser and his victim, equally detested, provided the most delightful spectacle. Latiaris, as I have said, had formerly taken the lead in ensnaring Titius Sabinus, and was now the first to atone for the latter’s punishment.
In the midst of this, Haterius Agrippa mounted an attack on the previous year’s consuls, asking why after pursuing accusations against each other they were now silent; they had forged a bond of fear and guilty conscience between themselves, yet the senators could not stay silent concerning what they had heard.
Regulus replied that he was biding his time as regards revenge, and would pursue the matter in the emperor’s presence; Trio, that a rivalry between colleagues and any discordant words that had been let fall, were best forgotten. Agrippa insisting, Sanquinius Maximus, of consular rank, begged the Senate not to add to the emperor’s cares by searching for fresh annoyance: it was sufficient for he himself to provide the remedy. This bought Regulus safety, and Trio a respite from ruin.
Haterius was hated all the more since, though enervated by sleep or by a libidinous wakefulness and, due to his lethargy, fearless however extreme the emperor’s viciousness, he still plotted, between gluttony and lethargy, the downfall of illustrious men.
Now, at the first opportunity, Cotta Messalinus, source of the most savage proposals and therefore of inveterate hatred, was indicted for having said, on many occasions, that Gaius Caesar’s masculinity was in doubt and, on dining with the priests on Livia’s birthday, for calling it not much of a funeral offering; and for letting fall the comment, while he was complaining of the influence exercised by Manius Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius, with whom he was in financial dispute, that: ‘the Senate will favour them in the matter, but my little Tiberius will favour me.’
Convicted on all charges, by the leading citizens, as they pressed for sentencing he appealed to Tiberius. A letter shortly arrived, in which the emperor, putting forward a form of defence, recalled the origin of his friendship with Cotta, and commended his many services to him, and requested that comments taken awry, and the banter of convivial chatter, not be used to adduce guilt.
The opening of Tiberius’ letter was considered of note; since he began with these words: ‘May the gods and goddesses consume me, more so even than I feel myself to be consumed day by day, if I know what I should write to you, Senators Elect, or in what manner to write, or what not to write of all this, and at this time…’. So surely had his shameful deeds returned to torment him.
Nor was it in vain, that Socrates, the wisest of philosophers, affirmed, as was his custom, that if the minds of tyrants could be revealed wounds and lacerations would be seen, since as the body is scarred by the lash so is the human spirit by cruelty, lust and evil intent.
Indeed, neither circumstance nor seclusion could prevent Tiberius himself from witnessing to the torment in his heart, and his own punishment.
The Senators were then empowered in the case of Gaius Caecilianus, the senator who had disclosed most of the evidence against Cotta, agreeing that he should receive the same penalty as Aruseius and Sanquinius, the accusers of Lucius Arruntius. No greater honour ever accrued to Cotta who, though undoubtedly noble, was impoverished by his prodigality and shamed by his vices, since the revenge appointed set him equal to Arruntius, a man of the highest character.
Next the cases of Quintus Servaeus and Minucius Thermus were brought. Servaeus was an ex-praetor, once a companion of Germanicus, Minucius of equestrian rank, both owning to only a limited friendship with Sejanus, which gained them greater sympathy. But Tiberius, countering by denouncing them as ringleaders in crime, then ordered the senator Gaius Cestius to repeat in the House information he had provided to his emperor, and Cestius undertook the prosecution.
It was the deadliest aspect of that age, that even leading senators acted as the basest of informers, some openly, many more in secret. Nor was any distinction made between outsider and relative, friend and stranger, recent events or the distant past: since to speak on any matter, whether in the Forum or at a dinner party, might result in accusation, with all hastening to take the lead and mark out his victim, sometimes in their own defence, but more often infected as if by a contagious disease.
Indeed, Minucius and Servaeus, on being convicted, turned informer. The same fate then overtook Julius Africanus, from the Gallic territory of the Santones, and Seius Quadratus whose origins I have not discovered. Nor am I unaware of the fact that the trials and tribulations of many men are neglected by the historians, wearied by the wealth of material or fearful that what they themselves found excessively gloomy might be found equally loathsome by their readers. Much has fallen to me that is worthy of record, though disregarded by others.
For example, at the moment when others falsely denied their friendship with Sejanus, Marcus Terentius, a Roman knight, being so accused, dared to embrace the subject in an address to the Senate, as follows: ‘In my situation’, he began, ‘it might be more expedient to deny the charge than to endorse it; but, whatever the outcome, I confess that I was both Sejanus’ friend and sought to be so, and was delighted when I received his friendship.
I knew him as my father’s colleague, in command of the praetorian cohorts, and later undertaking both civil and military duties. His relatives by blood and marriage were blessed with honours; so that whoever was close to Sejanus was more deserving of the emperor’s friendship: while his enemies were subject to fear and inconsequence.
I offer up no one but myself as an example: all who were ignorant of his ultimate ambition, I defend solely at my own risk. For indeed it was not Sejanus of Vulsinii (Bolsena), whose favour we courted, but that member of the Claudian and Julian houses into which he had won entry through his alliances; your prospective son-in-law Caesar, your colleague as consul, your agent in State affairs.
It is not for us to determine whom you should exalt and why: the gods have given you supreme judgement in such matters, to us is left the honour of obeying. Moreover, we see what is before our eyes, he who receives wealth and rank from you, he who has the most power to aid or harm us, and none can deny such was Sejanus. To seek to know what our emperor chooses to hide, what private plans he may have, is unlawful and dangerous: nor would the seeker be sure to discover them.
Senators Elect, consider Sejanus sixteen years of service, not his final end. We even paid respect to Satrius and Pomponius; it was considered acceptable to be known also to his freedmen and janitors. What follows? Should mine be a defence open indiscriminately to anyone? On the contrary let there be a clear dividing line. Let treason against the State, death-plots against the emperor, be punished: but Caesar, let the end of friendship and office absolve yourself and ourselves alike.’
The strength of his speech, and that someone had been found who would say what all were thinking, made so great an impression that his accusers, whose previous wrongdoings were now taken into account, were punished with exile or death.
A letter from Tiberius now followed, regarding the ex-praetor Sextus Vistilius whom, as a close friend of his brother Drusus, he had transferred to his own staff. The cause of his displeasure with Vistilius was either the latter’s libellous claims of Gaius Caesar’s immorality, or some fictitious story believed by Tiberius.
Excluded, on this account, from the emperor’s entourage, Vistilius, after attempting to slash his wrists despite his senile grip, bound up the wounds and in a written plea begged for pardon. Receiving a harsh reply, he then re-opened his veins. A wave of indictments of men from illustrious families and highest standing, on treason charges, then followed; of Annius Pollio and Appius Silanus together with Mamercus Scaurus and Calvisius Sabinus, while Vinicianus was accused together with his father Pollio.
The senators were beginning to tremble (for who was free of connection by marriage or friendship with this raft of famous men) when Celsus, tribune of the urban cohort, now among the accusers, saved Appius and Calvisius from trial. Tiberius delayed the cases of Pollio, Vinicianus and Scaurus for investigation by himself and the Senate, with certain ominous comments in relation to Scaurus.
Even women were not free of danger. Since they could not be accused of aspiring to State position, they were charged with shedding tears; so Vitia, the aged mother of Fufius Geminus, was executed for weeping over the execution of her son.
Such were the events in the Senate, and things were no different at the emperor’s tribunal, where Vescularius Flaccus and Julius Marinus were hurried to their death, friends of old of Tiberius, who had followed him to Rhodes and were inseparable from him in Capri: Vescularius had been his go-between in the plot against Libo; Marinus had participated with Sejanus’ in the accusations against Curtius Atticus. Thus there was all the more joy when it was learned that those precedents had recoiled on their exponents.
At about the same time, Lucius Piso, the pontiff (a rare office for so famous a man), died naturally, one who was never the willing author of anything servile, and whatever the demands necessity made on him still, wisely, a moderating influence. His father, as I have mentioned, had been censor; he had reached his eightieth year; and had earned, in Thrace, the honour of a triumph.
But his main distinction was the judgement with which he exercised the authority, only recently made permanent, of Urban Prefect, all the more impressive in that compliance with his rulings was a novelty.
Now formerly, when the kings or later the magistrates were absent from home, in order to avoid leaving the city without a competent authority, an official was chosen to preside temporarily over the courts and handle emergencies; and it is said that Denter Romulius was so appointed by Romulus, and later Numa Marcius by Tullus Hostilius, and Spurius Lucretius by Tarquinius Superbus.
Then the right to appoint passed to the consuls; though a shadow of the past remains when a prefect takes on the consular functions at the Latin Festival. Again, during the civil wars, Augustus nominated Cilnius Maecenas of the equestrian order to oversee Rome and Italy. Then, on achieving power, the population being large and legal remedy slow to obtain, he appointed an ex-consul to keep the slaves, along with those citizens who were bold and troublesome unless threatened with force, under control.
Messalla Corvinus was the first to receive such powers, and lose them after a few days through incapacity to exercise them. Then, Statilius Taurus supported the role well, despite advanced age, and finally, Lucius Piso, who well-proven, consistently, over twenty years, was now honoured with a public funeral by Senate decree.
A proposal regarding an addition to the Sibylline Books was now tabled, by the plebeian tribune Quintilianus. Caninius Gallus, a member of the College of the Fifteen, claimed that it should be included among the rest of the prophetess’ verses, and demanded a decision from the Senate. This having been agreed without division, Tiberius sent a letter in which he reproached the tribune in mild terms, his youth, he added, explaining his ignorance of ancient custom. He criticised Gallus for his anticipation of the College’s decision, despite his knowledge of religious theory and practice, and before the customary reading of the verses and evaluation by the Masters had been undertaken, on uncertain authority and before a thinly attended Senate.
He reminded him also, that given the many empty verses circulated under the celebrated name, Augustus ordained a day before which candidate works were to be delivered to the Urban Prefect, private ownership of them being forbidden. This had been the decision also of our ancestors, after the burning of the Capitol during the civil conflicts (83BC), when the verses of the Sibyl, or Sibyls plural, were gathered together from Samos, Ilium, Erythrae (Cesme), and even from North Africa, Sicily, and the Greek colonies in Italy; the priests being given the task of determining, as far as humanly possible, what was genuine.
So, in this case also, the writings in question were submitted to investigation by the College of the Fifteen.
In the same consulate, the heavy price of corn almost caused a rebellion, and for several days in the theatre urgent demands were made, with a freedom not usually displayed towards the emperor. Troubled by this, Tiberius reproached the magistrates and senators for not exerting the State’s authority over the public. He added that he was importing corn from various provinces on a much larger scale than Augustus had.
The Senate therefore decided on measures as severe as in ancient times in order to restrain the mob, while the consuls’ edict proved no less drastic. Tiberius’ ensuing silence on the matter was not taken, as he had expected, as a mark of trust in them, but as a display of pride.
At the year’s end, the Roman knights, Geminius, Celsus, and Pompeius were executed on charges of conspiracy; of whom Geminius, prodigal in expenditure and effeminate in his way of life, was a friend of Sejanus, but to no serious purpose. Also the tribune Julius Celsus managed to slacken his chain in prison, and by looping it over his head and pulling tight broke his own neck.
Rubrius Fabatus, though, was simply placed under surveillance, on the grounds that despairing of affairs in Rome he intended to throw himself on the mercy of the Parthians. He was indeed discovered near the Strait of Sicily, and when dragged back to Rome by a centurion could give no plausible reason for his distant peregrination. However he remained safe and sound, more through his case being forgotten than out of clemency.
In the consulate of Servius Galba (the future emperor) and Lucius Sulla, Tiberius, after long consideration as to whom his adoptive grand-daughters, the daughters of Germanicus, with their ages advancing, should wed, chose Lucius Cassius for Drusilla, and Marcus Vinicius for Julia Livilla. Vinicius was of small-town origins: born at Cales (Calvi Risorta), with a father and grandfather of consular rank but otherwise of an Equestrian family, he was a mild character of polished eloquence. Cassius was of a plebeian though ancient and honourable Roman house, brought up with strict paternal discipline, commendable for his good nature rather than his industry. Tiberius wrote to the Senate regarding the betrothals, with a brief eulogy of the young men.
Then, giving various extremely vague reasons for his absence from Rome, he turned to the weightier subject of the enmity he incurred on behalf of the State, and requested that the prefect, Macro, and a few tribunes and centurions should accompany him whenever he visited the Senate House. However, though the Senate passed a wide-ranging decree without reservation as to the composition or size of his escort, he never approached the roofs of Rome, far less the debating chamber, but by many a winding way circled around yet avoided his native city.
Meanwhile, a host of informers set upon those who added to their wealth through the interest on loans in contravention of a law established by Julius Caesar, the dictator, stipulating the terms under which money could be lent or property held in Italy, a measure previously dropped when public good became disregarded in favour of private gain.
Indeed, the evil of usury is endemic in Rome, an endless cause of discord and sedition, and attempts were made to repress it even in ancient and less corrupt times. The first attempt (450BC) was a ruling in the Twelve Tables that the rate of interest, hitherto set at the whim of the rich, should not exceed eight and a third percent annually; later (347BC) a tribunician bill lowered that by half; and eventually loans were banned. Multiple plebiscites were enacted against their fraudulent use, which was endlessly stifled only to reappear again by way of wondrous devices.
But now, the praetor Gracchus, under whose jurisdiction it fell, was forced by the very number of individuals implicated to refer the matter to the Senate, while the anxious senators (since none of them were quite free of guilt) sought pardon of the emperor. It was granted and the following period of a year and a half was conceded for the settling of accounts in accordance with the legal provision.
The result was a lack of ready money, since not only were all these loans redeemed simultaneously, but also the cash realised after the host of convictions at trial, from the consequent sales of forfeited estates, was locked away in the senatorial or imperial treasuries.
The Senate therefore directed that every creditor was to invest two thirds of his interest-bearing capital in landed property in Italy, the debtor to immediately repay that part of his loan. But the creditors demanded full repayment, and the debtors could not refuse without loss of honour. So initially there was a deal of scurrying about with pleas for more time, then a hum of activity in the praetor’s court, and what had been devised as a remedy, the buying of land for cash, began by operating adversely, since the lenders had called in all their capital to cover such purchases.
As heavy selling of estates had resulted in lower land prices, those most in debt found difficulty in fully realising their assets at sale, and many were bankrupted. This destruction of households threatened rank and reputation, until Tiberius distributed a million gold pieces to the State banks, whereupon interest-free loans for three years were made available to those who secured their loan with double the value in land.
Credit therefore revived, and gradually private lenders also were found. However, as usual with such matters, the purchase of land was not carried out according to the original Senate decree, a ready inception meeting an indifferent end.
Now the previous anxieties returned with the indictment of Considius Proculo for treason. While celebrating his birthday all unsuspecting, he was dragged off to the Senate House, condemned, and executed in an instant.
His sister, Sancia, was exiled, ‘denied fire and water’, her accuser being Quintus Pomponius. Of restless character, he gave as his excuse for his involvement in this way, in this and other cases, that by currying favour with the emperor he could alleviate the danger to his brother Pomponius Secundus.
Pompeia Macrina was also sentenced to exile. Her husband Argolicus and her father-in-law Laco, high-ranking men of Achaia, had been ruined by the emperor. Her father, an illustrious Roman knight, and her brother an ex-praetor, also faced with indictment, committed suicide. Their crime was that Pompeia’s great-grandfather, Theophanes of Mytilene had been a close friend of Pompey, and that after Theophanes’ death Greek sycophancy had honoured him with deification.
After these, Sextus Marius, the wealthiest man in Spain, was charged with incest with his daughter and thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. And lest there be any doubt that his vast riches had caused his ruin, Tiberius appropriated his gold and copper mines, forfeit to the State, as his own.
Spurred on by these executions, he gave orders for all those held in custody charged with being Sejanus’ accomplices to be killed. A confused and extensive mass of corpses resulted, of every age and gender, the famous and the unknown, scattered about or heaped together. Nor were relatives or friends allowed to stand close, weep over them, or even view them for too long, rather a cordon of guards, attentive to the time granted them for mourning, escorted the putrefying bodies which were dragged to the Tiber, to float or drift ashore with none allowed to touch them or commit them to the pyre.
The forces of terror had destroyed the rites of common humanity, and compassion was further denied with each advance of cruelty.
At about this time, Caligula, who had accompanied his grandfather Tiberius to Capri, married Junia Claudilla, the daughter of Marcus Silanus.
Caligula’s monstrous character was masked by a sly reticence, not a word escaping him on his mother Agrippina’s punishment nor the fate of his brothers. Whatever mood Tiberius assumed each day, he adopted the same, his comments hardly differing. Hence the epigram coined later by his stepfather, the orator Passienus, that there was never a finer slave in the world, nor a worse master.
I should not omit Tiberius’ prophetic remark concerning Servius Galba, then consul. He had summoned him, sounded his thoughts on a variety of subjects, and finally addressed him in Greek thus: ‘You too, Galba, will one day taste power,’ a prophecy of the latter’s belated and brief reign based on Tiberius’ knowledge of the Chaldean art, which he gained during his retirement in Rhodes, when instructed by Thrasyllus, whose expertise he had proved as follows.
Johann Friedrich Leonard, after Paulus Moreelse, 1643 - 1680
For all such consultations, Tiberius employed the highest point of his villa, and the confidential services of a single freedman. This illiterate, but solidly built guide preceded the astrologer whose skills Tiberius wished to test along a trackless precipice (for the villa overlooked the cliffs), and, if any suspicion arose of incompetence or deceit, in returning he would hurl the candidate into the sea below, lest he betray any secrets.
Thrasyllus, having been led there by the same stony route, and having impressed his inquisitive host by cleverly predicting the latter’s future reign, was asked if he had cast his own horoscope, regarding what the year would bring, and the nature of this day. Considering the positions and aspects of the planets, which he had drawn up, at first gave Thrasyllus pause, then he appeared to tremble, and the more he investigated the greater and greater seemed his trepidation, finally he exclaimed, between wonderment and alarm, that an uncertain, perhaps the ultimate danger threatened him.
Tiberius promptly embraced him, congratulating him on divining and hence escaping disaster; accepted, on this account, the prophecies he had made; and retained him among his closest companions.
For myself, when I listen to such things as these, my judgement wavers, as to whether mortal life is governed by fate and immutable necessity or by chance. Indeed you will find that the wisest of the ancients, and the followers of their schools, are in disagreement. Many of them are of the opinion that the gods are concerned neither with our origin nor our end, nor with humankind at all; such that the virtuous experience many sorrows, while wrongdoers experience as many pleasures.
Others, on the contrary, think that there is indeed a harmony in events, but emanating not from the wanderings of the planets, but in truth from the origins and the web of natural causation; yet they leave us free to choose in life, though once a choice is made the immediate future is determined. Nor are good and evil what the crowd thinks: for many are happy, who seem to live at the mercy of adverse circumstances, while many others are miserable despite their vast wealth, wherever, that is, the former steadfastly endure fortune’s blows, or the latter employ their prosperity unwisely.
But the majority believe mortals are not free, that their future is determined from the outset, though the train of events may prove a prophecy false, due to those who are filled with deceit speaking of things about which they are ignorant: thus an art is discredited, for which clear evidence has been claimed, in ancient times and our own. Indeed, I shall relate the prediction regarding Nero’s reign, made by the son of this very Thrasyllus, but in its proper place, since I do not wish to stray too far from my plan.
In the same consulate, the death of Asinius Gallus became known. There seemed no doubt that he died of starvation, but whether voluntarily or by compulsion was considered uncertain. Tiberius, consulted as to whether burial should be allowed, showed no embarrassment in granting permission, nor in going out of his way to deplore the circumstances which had prevented the accused being convicted in his presence: there had been insufficient time it seems, despite the passing of three years, for this aged consul, father of so many consular sons, to face trial!
Drusus Julius was the next to die, surviving for the last eight days of his life by the wretched recourse of chewing the stuffing of his mattress for sustenance.
It had been claimed that Macro had been entrusted, if Sejanus took up arms, with extracting the young man from custody (he was imprisoned beneath the Palace) and installing him as popular leader. Later, since a rumour spread that Tiberius was about to forge a reconciliation with his daughter-in-law, Agrippina, and this grandson, Drusus Julius, the emperor chose cruelty over repentance.
Indeed, he even attacked the dead youth, accusing him of vices of the flesh, of being a threat to his House, and an enemy of the State; and ordered the daily prison-register of Drusus Julius’ actions and statements to be read aloud, which was regarded as the final atrocity. That he had been guarded for so many years by men who recorded his looks, groans, even his slightest murmur, and that his grandfather could bear to hear all, read all, and reveal it in public, seemed scarcely credible if it were not that the reports, produced by the centurion Attius and the freedman Didymus, exhibited the names of the slaves who had struck or threatened Drusus Julius, whenever he tried to leave his room.
Attius had even added his own remarks, full of brutality, as if they were to his credit, along with the dying words of his prisoner, who as if in delirium began crying out on Tiberius, as his murderer and then, since hope of life was gone, laid a precise and formal curse upon him: namely, that just as he, Tiberius, would, in the end, have brought about the deaths of his daughter-in-law Agrippina, his brother Drusus’ son Germanicus, his own grandsons Nero Julius and Drusus Julius, and all their House, so would he, Tiberius, pay the penalty owed to his name, his ancestral line, and his posterity.
The senators did indeed interrupt the reading, in a show of horror: but in reality they were filled with terror and amazement, that Tiberius, once so cunning and cautious in the concealment of his crimes, was now so confident that he could, as it were, dissolve his palace walls to reveal his grandson exposed to a centurion’s lash and the blows of slaves, and begging in vain for the last necessities of life.
This tragedy had not yet ceased its effects, when news of Agrippina was circulated. I believe that after Sejanus’ death she had lived sustained by hope, and that then, with no easing of her cruel circumstances, she had starved herself to death; unless it was that food was denied her, so as to give the appearance, once dead, that she had done so.
What is certain is that Tiberius was ablaze with vile slanders, accusing her of lewdness and adultery with Asinius Gallus, whose death, he claimed, had led her to tire of life. Yet Agrippina, impatient of the level, and greedy for power, he claimed, had foregone feminine frailty for masculine ambition. She had died, he added, on the very day of the very month on which, two years earlier (AD31), Sejanus had paid for his crimes, a fact that should be committed to memory, yet, he stated almost with pride, in her case she had neither been strangled nor thrown down the Gemonian Stairs.
For this token of mercy thanks were returned by the Senate, and it was decreed that an offering should be consecrated to Jupiter, in all future years, on the eighteenth of October, the day that both the guilty parties had met their end.
Not long afterwards, Cocceius Nerva, an adherent of the emperor, knowledgeable in all matters of religious and civil law, his position unassailable, his health unimpaired, made the decision to die. Tiberius on hearing of this, sat down with him to inquire as to his reasons, progressing to entreaty, and finally confessing that it would weigh on his conscience and harm his reputation, if his closest friend were to flee life without a reason.
Declining all discussion of the matter, Nerva continued to abstain from food. It was said, by those who knew his thoughts, that with his closer view of the State’s ills, fearful of the future and angered by the present, he chose an honourable end while still whole and unthreatened.
And now Agrippina’s destruction brought down Plancina, barely credible though that might seem. Once married to Gnaeus Piso, and openly celebrating Germanicus’ death, Plancina had been saved, when Piso fell, by Livia’s intervention, and not less so by Agrippina’s hatred towards her. With the end of both the source of favour, and that of enmity, justice prevailed; arrested on charges familiar to all, she paid, by her own hand, the penalty not so much undeserved as overdue.
Julia Livia, the daughter of Drusus the Younger, and widow of Nero Julius, now married beneath her, into the house of Rubellius Blandus, whose grandfather, a Roman knight from Tibur (Tivoli), was still remembered by many; a marriage which was a source of deep regret and contributed to the many griefs of a sorrowful realm.
At the close of the year, the death of Aelius Lamia was marked by a censorian funeral. His release, belatedly, from a token governorship of Syria, had been followed by his appointment as Urban Prefect (AD32). He was of noble birth, and vigorous in old age; and had gained an added dignity from the withholding of his provincial role. Yet, on the death of Pomponius Flaccus, the next governor of Syria, a letter from Tiberius was read, complaining that every illustrious individual fit to command an army refused to undertake his proper duty, and such was his need he was reduced to entreaty, in the hope that some ex-consul or other might be driven to accept the province, forgetting Arruntius, who was now detained in Rome for a further year, to avoid him taking up his post in Spain.
In this same year (AD33), Manius Lepidus died, of whose temperance and wisdom I have spoken enough in the previous books. Nor does his nobility require much proof: indeed, the Aemilian House has been prolific of men of civic virtue, and even those of the family of wayward character acted their part with brilliance.
During the consulate of Paulus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius (AD34), the phoenix bird visited Egypt, after a cycle of many generations, and presented the learned in that country and Greece with the subject of much discussion, regarding this strange event. I will present the points on which they concur, and a larger number that are questionable yet not too absurd for consideration.
The creature is sacred to the Sun, and those who have depicted its form agree that it differs from other birds in the shape of its head and the variegation of its feathers: as to its life-span accounts differ. The accepted number is five hundred years, but there are those who assert it visits at intervals of one thousand four hundred and sixty-one years (the Sothic cycle), and that three previous phoenix birds had arrived in the city known as Heliopolis (Ayn Shams, Cairo), with a dense flight of other birds attracted by the novelty of their appearance, during the reigns of Sesosis (Sesostris, Senusret I), Amasis (Ahmose II), and Ptolemy III of the Macedonian dynasty (reigned 246-222BC). Yet though the ancient sources are confusing with regard to the matter, there were less than two hundred and fifty years between Ptolemy and Tiberius, hence the view that this later phoenix was spurious and not from Arabia, and pursuing none of the habits affirmed by tradition.
For, so it is said, when the number of its years is complete, and death is approaching, it builds a nest in its own country, pouring out its life-force there, from which its successor rises, whose first task on reaching maturity is to inter its predecessor, not after any random fashion, but once equal to the task having lifted a mass of myrrh and proved itself by a long flight, it grasps its father’s body, transports it to the altar of the Sun, and consigns it to the flames.
These details are unverified and augmented by fable, but there is no disagreement as to the bird’s being seen at various times in Egypt.
Meanwhile at Rome, continuous carnage prevailed. Pomponius Labeo, whose governorship of Moesia I mentioned, opened his veins and bled to death; his wife Paxaea following his example. Fear of the executioner, it was, that rendered this mode of suicide acceptable, and the fact that a condemned man’s estate was forfeit, and burial denied, while those who passed sentence on themselves were rewarded for their readiness to do so, their body being interred and their last wishes respected.
Tiberius, however, explained in a letter to the Senate that though it had been our ancestors’ custom when they severed a friendship to forbid the offender their house and thereby end amicable relations, and though he had reverted to that practice in this matter also, Labeo, who had been pursued for maladministration of his province and other crimes, while wrapping his guilt in ill-will towards Tiberius himself had terrified his wife, groundlessly, who even if guilty was still in no danger.
Next Mamercus Scaurus was again impeached, who though noted for his ancestry and his talent as an advocate, led a shameful life. He was ruined not by his friendship with Sejanus, but by an agent of destruction no less powerful, his hatred of Macro. The latter practised the same deceits as himself but concealed them better, and had laid information against Scaurus, regarding a tragedy the accused had written, highlighting a few verses which might seem aimed at Tiberius.
The charges actually laid however, by the accusers Servilius and Cornelius, were of adultery with Livilla and being addicted to magic rites. Scaurus forestalled his conviction, in a manner worthy of his ancestors the Aemilii, encouraged to do so by his wife Sextia, who both urged the act and joined him in death.
Nevertheless, those making accusations met with punishment, if circumstances dictated. So, Servilius and Cornelius, notorious for ruining Scaurus, were banished to the islands, ‘denied fire and water’, having accepted a bribe from Varius Ligus for dropping charges.
So too, Abudius Ruso, a former aedile, while threatening prosecution of Lentulus Gaetulicus, under whom he commanded a legion, on the grounds that Gaetulicus had promised his daughter to Sejanus’ son, was himself condemned and expelled from Rome.
At that time, Gaetulicus was in charge of the legions in Upper Germany, and was held in great affection by them, for his broad clemency and his avoidance of extreme measures, and was not unwelcome to the neighbouring army in Lower Germany, thanks to his father-in-law Lucius Apronius being legate there. Hence the firm tradition that he dared to send a letter to Tiberius, pointing out that his relationship with Sejanus was not begun on his own account, but followed advice given by Tiberius; he was, he knew, as capable of being deceived as Tiberius had been, and therefore the identical mistake should not be treated as free of wrongdoing in the one case, but ruinous in others. His own loyalty was intact and, if it were not insidiously attacked, would remain so. He would not accept replacement by a successor as anything other than an indication that he was marked out for death. A kind of treaty might be struck, however, by which the emperor might have authority over all else, while he retained his province.
This account, though remarkable, drew credibility from the fact that along among Sejanus’ associates Gaetulicus remained unharmed, and in high favour, Tiberius being aware that he himself was the object of public disapproval, that his life was nearing its end, and his own position depended more on public opinion than real strength.
End of the Annals Book VI: I-XXX