Book VI: XXXI-LI - The death of Tiberius, Caligula accedes
‘Victory from the Vatican’
History of Rome and the Roman people, from its origin to the establishment of the Christian empire - Victor Duruy (1811 - 1894) (p238, 1884)
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- Book VI:XXXI A delegation from Parthia.
- Book VI:XXXII Tiberius sponsors Phraates then Tiridates.
- Book VI:XXXIII Conflict in Armenia.
- Book VI:XXXIV Pharasmanes deploys his army.
- Book VI:XXXV The Parthians defeated.
- Book VI:XXXVI Artabanus ultimately flees.
- Book VI:XXXVII Vitellius installs Tiridates as king.
- Book VI:XXXVIII The deaths of Trio, Marcianus and Gratianus.
- Book VI:XXXIX The deaths of Rufus, Paconianus, and Sabinus.
- Book VI:XL A trail of slaughter and suicide.
- Book VI:XLI Cappadocia and Parthia.
- Book VI:XLII Tiridates II crowned.
- Book VI:XLIII Fatal delay.
- Book VI:XLIV Tiridates forced to flee to Syria.
- Book VI:XLV The Aventine fire.
- Book VI:XLVI The matter of the succession.
- Book VI:XLVII The seeds of bloodshed.
- Book VI:XLVIII The fate of Arruntius and others.
- Book VI:XLIX The suicide of Sextus Papinius.
- Book VI:L The death of Tiberius.
- Book VI:LI Tacitus on the character and behaviour of Tiberius.
- Book VI: Translator’s note, the missing portion of the text, from Book VII to early Book XI
Book VI:XXXI A delegation from Parthia
In the consulate of Gaius Cestius and Marcus Servilius (AD35), a number of Parthian noblemen arrived in Rome, without the knowledge of their king, Artabanus III. He, loyal to the Romans and acting fairly towards his subjects whilst still having Germanicus to fear, later adopted an attitude of pride towards ourselves and cruelty towards them.
Made confident by the successful campaigns he had waged against the surrounding nations and despising the elderly Tiberius as incapable of harm, he coveted Armenia, on which, after the death of Artaxias III he had imposed his eldest son Arsaces, adding insult to injury by sending for the treasure which Vonones I had abandoned in Syria and Cilicia. At the same time, out of vanity, he uttered boasts and threats regarding the old limits of the Persian and Macedonian empires, and his intention to invade the lands held first by Cyrus and then by Alexander the Great.
The most influential sponsor, however, of the secret delegation was Sinnaces, a man of noted ancestry and equivalent wealth, seconded by the eunuch Abdus, whose affliction among the barbarians brings not contempt but power. They, and the other leading individuals whom they enlisted, demanded that, as they could not be ruled by one of the scions of the Arsacidae, many of whom had been killed by Artabanus while others were not yet adult, they be granted Phraates, the son of Phraates IV: only a name and ratification by a willing emperor was needed, so that a true Arsacid might be seen on the banks of the Euphrates.
Book VI:XXXII Tiberius sponsors Phraates then Tiridates
It was Tiberius’ wish also and, still fixed on managing foreign affairs through strategy and cunning, and without recourse to arms, he prepared and equipped this Phraates to mount his father’s throne. Meanwhile Artabanus had caught wind of the plot against him, he being constrained by fear and then as suddenly inflamed by his desire for revenge. To barbarians delay appears servile, instant action an attribute of kings: yet expediency prevailed, in that Abdus was summoned to a banquet, in a show of friendship, then incapacitated by a slow poison, while Sinnaces was detained by dissimulation and gifts, as well as matters of business.
Meanwhile in Syria, Phraates, having renounced Roman ways, to which he had become accustomed over the years, in order to practise Parthian living, being unequal to the customs of his native land was carried off by disease. Yet Tiberius continued with his plans, finding a rival for Artabanus in Tiridates who shared the same blood, and choosing Mithridates of Iberia (eastern Georgia) to rule Armenia, while reconciling him to his brother Pharasmanes I who held power in their native country. Tiberius also gave command of all his projects in the East to Lucius Vitellius.
I am not unaware that Vitellius had a sinister reputation in Rome, and is remembered for many a disgraceful action, yet as a governor of provinces he behaved with old-fashioned virtue. Once returned home, fearful of Caligula and later an intimate friend of Claudius, he reverted to a vile servility, an example to posterity of the shameless flatterer, his beginning inferior to his end, the promise of youth lost in the scandals of age.
Book VI:XXXIII Conflict in Armenia
Now Mithridates, the superior leader, by force and deceit, induced Pharasmanes to support his campaign, and agents of corruption were engaged who tempted Arsaces’ servants with a weight of gold, to commit murder. Simultaneously, a strong Iberian contingent invaded Armenia and gained control of the city of Artaxata (Artashat).
As soon as Artabanus heard the news, he readied his son Orodes to take revenge, granting him command of the Parthian troops, and sending men to hire auxiliaries. Pharasmanes responded by aligning himself with Caucasian Albania, and summoning the Sarmatians, whose wand-bearers, according to national custom, accepted the gifts of both armies and enlisted on both sides.
The Iberians, however, masters of the key locations, swiftly poured their Sarmatian allies into Armenia through the Caspian Gate (Pass of Darial), while those advancing to aid the Parthians were easily thwarted, since the other inland passes had been closed by the enemy, and the only one (Pass of Derbent) remaining between the sea and the extremity of the Caucasus Mountains, was impassable in summer, as the shallows are flooded by the force of the Etesian winds. In winter the waves are repulsed by the southerlies and this driving-back of the waters leaves the shore clear.
Book VI:XXXIV Pharasmanes deploys his army
Orodes, therefore, lacked the presence of his allies, while Pharasmanes, strengthened by his auxiliaries, began challenging him to battle and, as he withdrew, advancing on his encampments and denying his horses pasture. He often encircled the enemy, his outposts placed as if laying siege, until the Parthians, unaccustomed to such insolence, surrounded the king and demanded battle.
Their sole strength lay in their mounted warriors: Pharasmanes was also effective with his infantry since, living in a mountainous region, the Iberians and Albanians were trained for greater toughness and endurance. It is said they originated in Thessaly, in the days when Jason, following Medea’s departure with their children, later revisited the vacant palace of Aeetes, and an empty Colchis. Many of their titles, and the oracle of Phrixus celebrate him; nor do they offer rams in sacrifice, believing that Phrixus was carried by that creature, whether the animal itself or a ship with such a figurehead.
When the battle lines were drawn on either side, and the Parthian spoke of his empire of the East, and the brilliance of the Arcasids, compared with the obscure Iberian and his mercenaries, Pharasmanes, in speaking to his troops, pointed to their being free from Persian domination, to the honour of victory being greater the higher they aimed, the danger and disgrace if they turned their backs; and at the same time to his own bristling lines, in contrast to the Median ranks in their gold attire, here true men, there the prize.
Book VI:XXXV The Parthians defeated
Amongst the Sarmatians, however, there was no single leader’s speech: each roused the others not to let mounted bowmen decide the battle: better to prevent it by a charge and hand to hand fighting. In consequence the encounters were various in nature, since the Parthians, used to pursuing or fleeing with equal skill, broke formation and sought room for their arrows, while the Sarmatians, neglecting their shorter-range bows, rode forward with cavalry-pike and long-sword. Now advance and retreat alternated, in the manner of a cavalry action, now with bodies locked together and steel clashing, driving onwards or being driven.
Then the Albanians and Iberians came to grips with their enemies, unseating them, and placing them in twofold danger, attacked by the men on horseback, and with the infantry dealing wounds closely, on the ground below. Meanwhile, Pharasmanes and Orodes were supporting the attackers, or aiding the waverers. Conspicuous figures, they recognised one another, gave a shout and charged, accompanied by an exchange of javelins, Pharasmanes, the more threatening, inflicting a wound through his opponent’s helmet. He failed to repeat the blow, his horse carrying him onward, while the wounded prince was shielded by the bravest of his guards. Nevertheless, a false report of his death sowed panic among the Parthians, and they conceded defeat.
Book VI:XXXVI Artabanus ultimately flees
Artabanus soon sought revenge with the full weight of his empire. The Iberians, with their knowledge of the terrain, had the better of the conflict, yet Artabanus would not have withdrawn had not Vitellius engendered the fear in him of a war with Rome, by gathering the legions and circulating a rumour that he was about to invade Mesopotamia. Armenia was then abandoned, and Artabanus’ power overthrown, Vitellius inciting the desertion by his subjects of a king merciless in peace and fatally unlucky in war.
Sinnaces, therefore, whom I mentioned earlier as hostile to the king, induced his father, Abdagaeses, to defect, along with others knowledgeable as to his purpose, and now readier for action due to the series of disasters. There was a gradual inflow of men whose subservience had been due more to fear than goodwill, and whose spirits had risen at the discovery of effective leadership.
Nothing now was left Artabanus but his foreign bodyguards, exiled from their homes and families, who neither understood virtue, nor cared about doing harm, but were paid and fed as agents of crime. Gathering them to him, he swiftly fled to a remote region adjoining Scythia; hoping to find allies, since he was connected by marriage to the Hyrcanians and Carmanians; and that in the interim the Parthians, favouring the absent and fickle where those present are concerned, might turn to regretting him.
Book VI:XXXVII Vitellius installs Tiridates as king
Now that Artabanus was in flight, and the minds of the people were set on a new ruler, Vitellius advised Tiridates to seize the moment, and himself led the legions and auxiliary forces to the banks of the Euphrates. While the Roman made the national offering (the suovetaurilia, of a boar a ram and a bull) to Mars, and the Parthian readied a sacrificial horse to placate the river-god, the locals announced that the Euphrates was rising sharply of its own accord, without any downpour of rain, and that simultaneously the whitening foam was winding itself in loops, each like the band of a Persian diadem, auspicious of a venture crowned with success. Others gave a more skilful interpretation, that the initial results would be fortunate but not lasting, since though the omens of earth or sky were more likely to prove certain, the river, fluid by nature, revealed its prophecies only to sweep them away.
Now, a bridge of boats having been built, and the army having crossed, the first arrival in camp was Ornospades with several thousand cavalry. Once an exile, and a not unsuccessful aid to Tiberius in ending the Dalmatic War (AD9), he had been granted Roman citizenship, later regaining the friendship of his king, and high in his favour as the governor of those plains between the famed waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and hence called Mesopotamia.
Not long afterwards, Sinnaces’ troops reinforced those of Tiridates, and Abdagaeses, the mainstay of his cause, added the riches and appurtenances of the crown. Vitellius, considering a display of Roman arms enough, advised Tiridates to remember the glorious deeds of his grandfather Phraates and his foster-father Tiberius, and warned the nobles to remain obedient to the king, and to retain their respect for Rome, and their own honour and good faith. He then returned to Syria with his legions.
Book VI:XXXVIII The deaths of Trio, Marcianus and Gratianus
I have combined the events of two summers in order to allow the mind some respite from domestic ills; for though three years had passed since Sejanus’ execution, neither time, prayers, nor satiety, which often pacify others, could soften Tiberius or indeed prevent him punishing doubtful or half-forgotten crimes as if they were the most serious and recent of all.
Fulcinius Trio was alarmed by this, and instead of passively awaiting the accusers’ attacks, he drew up his last testament listing the many atrocities perpetrated by Macro and the emperor’s head freedmen, and taunted Tiberius with his waning mental powers and his prolonged absence as if he were exiled. Tiberius ordered this passage to be read aloud, one which the heirs would have had suppressed, to demonstrate his tolerance of others’ freedom, and indifference to his own poor reputation. Or perhaps he had been unaware for many a year of Sejanus’ crimes, and now preferred they be broadcast, in whatever form of words, and let the truth, which flattery stifles, at least be made known.
At this time also, the senator Granius Marcianus, who was accused of treason by Gaius Gracchus, took his own life, while the ex-praetor Tarius Gratianus was condemned to death under the same law.
Book VI:XXXIX The deaths of Rufus, Paconianus, and Sabinus
The fates of Trebellenus Rufus and Sextius Paconianus were no different, Trebellenus dying by his own hand, while Paconianus was strangled in his prison cell for the verses he had composed there regarding his emperor.
Tiberius received the news, not from a distance, by messenger and across the dividing waters, as previously, but beneath the walls of Rome, where, that day or the following, he could write his replies to the consuls and almost witness the blood flowing through the houses of his victims, or over his executioners’ hands.
At the close of the year, Poppaeus Sabinus breathed his last. Of humble origin, he attained the consulate and triumphal honours through his friendship with emperors, and governed the major provinces for twenty-four years, not due to exceptional ability, but simply because he was up to the job, no more.
Book VI:XL A trail of slaughter and suicide
In the year when Quintus Plautius and Sextus Papinius were consuls (AD36), the destruction was too commonplace for Lucius Arruntius’ pardon to be noted, or the executions of others to register as atrocities, yet there was a scene in the Senate House itself that caused terror, when the Roman knight Vibulenus Agrippa, at the end of his accusers’ peroration, drew a vial of poison from the folds of his gown, swallowed it, and dying was swiftly hauled off to gaol by the lictors, then strangled with a halter though he had ceased to breathe.
Not even Tigranes IV, once ruler of Armenia and now arraigned, was saved from the fate of Roman citizens, despite his royal title, while the consular Gaius Galba (elder brother of the future emperor) with the two Blaesi, died by their own hand. Galba had been denied the chance of a province after an ominous letter from Tiberius: the Blaesi, destined to receive priesthoods while their House was intact, had been barred from them once the blow fell, and as a presage of their fate, well-understood and therefore acted upon, Tiberius assigned the vacant positions to others.
So too Aemilia Lepida, who married Drusus Julius, and after persecuting her husband with a host of false accusations went unpunished, as long as her father Marcus Lepidus was alive: later she was accused by the informers of adultery with a slave: there being no question of her guilt, she therefore waived her defence, and ended her own life.
Book VI:XLI Cappadocia and Parthia
At about this time, the Cietae, a Cilician tribe subject to Archelaus of Cappadocia, being compelled, after our fashion, to carry out a property census and submit to tribute, withdrew to the heights of the Taurus Mountains, and given the nature of the terrain defended themselves well against the feeble forces of the king, until the legate Marcus Trebellius, sent by Vitellius from his province of Syria, with four thousand legionaries and a select group of auxiliaries, surrounded with siege-works the two hills occupied by the barbarians (the lesser known as Cadra, the other Davara) and forced them to surrender, the adventurous at the point of a sword, the rest through thirst.
Meanwhile Tiridates, the Parthians agreeing, took possession of Nicephorium (Ar-Raqqa, Syria), Anthemusias (Birejik, Turkey) and the other cities founded from Macedonia bearing Greek names, together with the Parthian towns of Halus and Artemita. Joy was unconfined, since Artabanus, raised in Scythia, had been execrated for his cruelty, while there were hopes that Tiridates’ character had been enhanced by Roman culture.
Book VI:XLII Tiridates II crowned
The greatest adulation was displayed by the powerful city-state of Seleucia on the Tigris, defended by walls, never descending to savagery, but retaining the memory of its founder Seleucus I Nicator. Three hundred members, chosen for their wealth or wisdom, form their senate; the populace has separate powers. As long as they act in unison, the Parthian is scorned: when they differ, each summons help against its rival, and called upon to rescue a part the alien battens on the whole.
This had most recently occurred during the reign of Artabanus, who for his own benefit had surrendered the people to the power of the aristocracy: for that of the people is akin to liberty, while that of a minority is closer to the arbitrary nature of monarchy. The citizens now celebrated the arrival of Tiridates with the honour paid to kings of old, along with those wider innovations of recent times; at the same time they poured abuse on Artabanus, as an Arcasid on the mother’s side, but otherwise ignoble.
Tiridates entrusted the government of Seleucia to the people. Then, while debating as to which day he should set to assume sovereignty, he received letters from Phraates and Hiero, governors of the most important districts, seeking a brief delay. It was decided to wait for the presence of these two powerful individuals, and in the meantime the seat of government was moved to Ctesiphon (opposite Seleucia across the Tigris). However as they postponed their arrival from day to day, the commander-in-chief, in the traditional manner, and before an approving crowd, set the royal diadem on Tiridates’ brow.
Book VI:XLIII Fatal delay
Had Tiridates immediately advanced into the interior, and against the remaining tribes, he might have overcome the doubts of those who hesitated, and they would have ceded all to him: but by laying siege to the fort which held Artabanus’ funds and his harem, he gave time for allegiances to dissolve. For Phraates and Hiero, with others who had not been present on the day chosen for Tiridates’ assumption of the crown, had deserted to Artabanus, some through fear, others through envy of Abdagaeses, who now ruled both the court and this newly-crowned king.
Artabanus himself was found in Hyrcania, covered in filth, and winning each day’s sustenance with bow and arrows. Terrified at first that treachery might be intended, at which point the assurance was given that he was to be restored to his throne, he naturally asked what had brought about this sudden change. Hiero now inveighed against Tiridates’ youth and inexperience, saying that power was held not by an Arcasid, but by an empty name, a foreign effeminate, one unfit for war, and that power lay in the hands of Abdagaeses.
Book VI:XLIV Tiridates forced to flee to Syria
The former monarch realised that if false in their professions of affection they were not so in their hatreds. Only delaying to gather auxiliary troops in Scythia, he marched swiftly anticipating his enemy’s plans, and his friends’ remorse; retaining his filthy apparel to attract the sympathy of the masses. Neither prayer nor deceit, nothing at all, was omitted that might sway the doubting or encourage the resolute.
He was already approaching the outskirts of Seleucia with a considerable force, while Tiridates, unnerved by news of Artabanus and his arrival in person, wavered in council between counter-attack and delay. Those desiring battle and a swift resolution argued that their disparate and travel-weary foes had not, as yet, coalesced in spirit, into a loyal whole, traitors and recent enemies as they were to the man they now favoured once more.
Abdagaeses, in contrast, advised a return to Mesopotamia, where beyond the Tigris they might rouse the Armenians and Elymaeans and others in their rear, and along with their allied forces and any the Romans sent, might try their fortune. His view prevailed, as the greater authority lay with Abdagaeses and Tiridates had no appetite for risk. However, their departure was something of a flight and with the Nabatean tribes taking the lead the rest left for their homes, or Artabanus’ camp, until Tiridates with a few followers eventually retraced his steps to Syria, freeing all from the disgrace of appearing traitors.
Book VI:XLV The Aventine fire
In that same year (AD36) Rome was afflicted with a great fire, which destroyed part of the Circus Maximus, below the Aventine, and the buildings on the Aventine itself; which disaster Tiberius turned to his own credit by paying the price of the mansions and tenements destroyed. A million gold pieces were involved in this munificent outlay, all the more welcome to the people given that he was cautious in building on his account, and even regarding public works only two were erected, his Temple of Augustus, and the stage of Pompey’s Theatre, and in both cases he was too disdainful of popularity or too old to bother dedicating them on completion.
Four husbands of Tiberius’ grand-daughters were appointed to assess the claimants’ losses: namely, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (who had married Agrippina the Younger), Lucius Cassius Longinus (Julia Drusilla), Marcus Vinicius (Julia Livilla), and Gaius Rubellius Blandus (Julia Livia). The name of Publius Petronius was added by the consuls. Also honours were ingeniously invented and awarded to the emperor, though it was uncertain which he accepted or rejected, since the end of his life was near.
Book VI:XLVI The matter of the succession
For not long afterwards, the last consuls of Tiberius’ reign, Gnaeus Acerronius and Gaius Petronius took office (AD37). By now Macro’s power was excessive, who never neglectful of Caligula’s favour now courted it daily, and after the death of Caligula’s wife, Junia Claudilla, he had forced his own wife Ennia to mislead the youth with a pretence of love, and bind him with a promise of marriage. Caligula made no objection, while he could glimpse power; since excitable though his character was he had still acquired, almost without knowing, the hypocrisy learnt at his grandfather’s side.
This Tiberius knew, and he hesitated, initially, therefore as to the succession, in considering each of his grandchildren. Of these, Tiberius Gemellus, son of Drusus the Younger, was the closest to him by blood and affection, but had not yet reached manhood. Caligula, Germanicus’ son, possessed the vigour of manhood, yet also the support of the masses, to his grandfather a cause of dislike. Even Claudius, Germanicus’ brother, of mature years and with a love for the arts, was considered, the obstacle being his impaired mental faculties.
If a successor was sought outside the imperial house, Tiberius feared lest the memory of Augustus, the name of the Caesars, were turned to derision and contempt: for his care was not so much for present popularity but to find favour with posterity. Soon, irresolute of mind, weary of body, he left to fate a decision to which he felt himself unequal, though comments escaped him from which might be gained his insight into the future.
He reproached Macro with forsaking the setting, and looking to the rising sun, and to Caligula himself, who in a chance conversation derided the memory of Lucius Sulla, he remarked, prophetically, that Caligula would possess all Sulla’s vices with none of his virtues. At the same time, his eyes filled with tears, he embraced Gemellus, the youngest of his grandsons then, seeing Caligula’s dark look, said: ‘You shall kill him, and another slay you.’
Nevertheless, despite his failing health, he denied himself none of his vices, enduring them as if in a simulation of vigour, while he mocked the physicians’ arts, and those who after the age of thirty needed a stranger’s advice to distinguish what harmed the body from what benefited it.
Book VI:XLVII The seeds of bloodshed
Meanwhile, in Rome, the seeds of bloodshed were being sown that would last well beyond Tiberius’ reign. Laelius Balbus had accused Acutia, Publius Vitellius’ ex-wife, of treason. After her conviction, when a reward was about to be granted her accuser, Junius Otho, the plebeian tribune, interceded; out of which a feud arose, leading to Otho’s ruin.
Then, Albucilla, notorious for her host of lovers, and formerly married to Satrius Secundus who had divulged Sejanus’ plot, was accused of impiety regarding the emperor; Gnaeus Domitius, Vibius Marsus and Lucius Arruntius being charged as her adulterous accomplices. I have previously mentioned Domitius’ noble ancestry, while Marsus could also claim illustrious forebears as well as distinction in learning.
However, the statements passed to the Senate, revealed that Macro had overseen the witness interrogations and the torture of the slaves, while the absence of any communication from Tiberius on the matter gave rise to the suspicion that much of the evidence was concocted while Tiberius was ill and perhaps without his knowledge, as a result of Macro’s known hostility to Arruntius.
Book VI:XLVIII The fate of Arruntius and others
Domitius and Marsus, therefore, remained alive, the former compiling his defence, the latter as if determined to die by starvation, while Arruntius, whose friends advised delay and more delay, responded by saying that the same methods did not suit all men. As for himself, he had lived long enough and his sole regret was that he had been forced to suffer an old age filled with anxiety, amidst derision and danger, formerly hated by Sejanus, now Macro, but always one or other of those in power, and not through his own fault but because of his intolerance of scoundrels.
Yes, he might survive a while till the old emperor died, but how could he evade the young emperor to come? And then, if Tiberius, with all his experience of affairs, had been ruined and transformed by absolute power, was it likely that Caligula, scarcely out of boyhood, ignorant of all and fed with the worst, would prove better, with Macro as his example, who had been chosen to destroy Sejanus, Macro being the worst of the pair, and who had afflicted the State with an even greater host of crimes? Now he foresaw a harsher servitude, and therefore he would flee at once from both what had passed and what threatened. With this speech in the manner of a prophecy, he opened his veins. What follows will reveal that he did well to choose death.
Albucilla, after wounding herself inconclusively, was carried off to prison by order of the Senate. Of her accomplices in sexual profligacy, Carsidius Sacerdos, an ex-praetor, was to be deported to an island, Pontius Fregellanus was to forfeit his rank as senator, and Laelius Balbus was to receive like penalties, that sentence at least bringing joy, since Balbus possessed a belligerent eloquence, always in readiness to attack the innocent.
Book VI:XLIX The suicide of Sextus Papinius
During this time, Sextus Papinius, from a consular family, chose a sudden and hideous end by leaping to his death. The motive was attributed to his mother, divorced long before, who by approving his acts of dissipation drove the youth to extremes from which he could find no escape but suicide.
Thus indicted in the Senate, she, despite throwing herself at the senators’ feet, and despite pleading at length a grief all must feel, and the greater frailty of the feminine heart faced with such a blow, with more sorrowful statements in the same sad vein, was nevertheless banished from Rome for ten years, until her younger son had left the hazard she presented to his youth behind.
Book VI:L The death of Tiberius
His bodily strength was now deserting Tiberius, but not as yet his powers of dissimulation: his mind as unbending, and attentive in speech and look, he sought meanwhile to hide his manifest defects by forced sociability. After frequent changes of residence, he settled finally in a villa on the promontory of Misenum (Miseno) once occupied by Lucius Lucullus. There he was found, in the following manner, to be nearing his end.
There was a doctor, called Charicles, noted for his skill, who had not been used to treating the emperor’s illnesses, yet had frequently given him advice. While departing from a banquet as though on private business, he clasped Tiberius’ hand, as if paying his respects, and felt the emperor’s pulse. The hint failed; for Tiberius, unsure whether to show offence, accordingly concealed his anger, ordered the dinner to proceed, and reclined at table beyond his usual hour, as if paying a compliment to his now absent friend.
Yet Charicles confirmed to Macro that the emperor’s life was ebbing, and that he would not last beyond a few days. Therefore all outstanding business was vigorously completed, by audience if the parties were present, by messenger, in the case of the legates and armies. On the sixteenth of March, owing to a breathing problem, it was thought he had ended his mortal life, and Caligula was leaving to begin his imperial rule, amidst a host of congratulations, when word suddenly arrived that Tiberius had regained his speech and sight and was summoning servants to bring him refreshment after his lapse.
A general panic ensued, and while Caligula stood silently fixed to the spot, now after having attained the height of expectation dreading the worst, and the crowd scattered in all directions, Macro, undismayed, while they all fled the threshold, ordered the old man smothered under a pile of bedclothes. So Tiberius ended his life, in his seventy-eighth year.
‘Death of Tiberius’
Jan Caspar Philips, after Hubert François Gravelot, 1736 - 1775
Book VI:LI Tacitus on the character and behaviour of Tiberius
His father was Tiberius Claudius Nero, and was related on both sides to the Claudian House, though his mother, Livia, had been adopted successively into the Livian and Julian families. From early infancy, life proved uncertain for him; at first as an exile, alongside his proscribed father, then entering the House of Augustus as his step-son, and struggling against numerous rivals, while Marcellus, Agrippa and later Gaius and Lucius Caesar, thrived, and with even his brother Drusus the Elder proving happier in the love of his countrymen.
Yet his situation was most precarious after he received Julia the Elder’s hand in marriage, having to endure his wife’s infidelities, and even escape them by retiring to Rhodes. On his return, he was master of an imperial house lacking an appointed heir for twelve years (AD2-AD14), and subsequently sole arbiter of the Roman world for almost twenty-three.
His behaviour also had its various stages. His reputation and mode of life were unexceptionable while, as a private citizen, he held office under Augustus; he exercised secretiveness and cunning, concealed behind a hypocritical display of virtue, while Germanicus and Drusus were alive; he revealed that same mix of good and evil while his mother was yet on the scene; then, while he still prized or feared Sejanus, he was loathed for his cruelty but his libidinous desires remained hidden; finally, past all shame or fear, he displayed his true character, indulging equally in vice and crime.
Book VI: Translator’s note, the missing portion of the text, from Book VII to early Book XI
The lost material of Books VII to the first part of Book XI likely contained a narrative around the events listed below:
AD37. Caligula’s accession (March 18). The purge discontinued. Claudius enters public life, and Nero is born. Tiberius Gemellus and Marcus Junius Silanus commit suicide. Early signs of Caligula’s derangement.
AD38. Death of the emperor’s sister Drusilla. Macro commits suicide. Delusions of divinity.
AD39. Conspiracy of Aemilius Lepidus and Lentulus Gaetulicus, legates of Lower Germany. Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla banished. Caligula in Gaul.
AD40. Sham campaign in Britain. Religious unrest in Jerusalem.
AD41. Caligula assassinated (January 24). Claudius proclaimed emperor by the praetorians. Herod Agrippa granted Judaea. Agrippina returns from banishment, with her sister Julia Livilla who is again banished on adultery charges. Birth of Britannicus.
AD42. Messalina, wife of the emperor, increasingly powerful and vindictive. Failed conspiracy of Vinicianus and Scribonianus, legates of Dalmatia. Purge follows.
AD43. Claudius’ invasion of Britain under Plautius Silvanus, who defeats Caratacus.
AD44. Triumph of Claudius.
AD47. Ovation of Silvanus, succeeded in Britain by Scapula.
Book XI here opens with the death of Valerius Asiaticus.
End of the Annals Book VI: XXXI-LI