CNEIUS Domitius and Camillus Scribonianus had entered on the consulship when the emperor, after crossing the channel which divides Capreae from Surrentum, sailed along Campania, in doubt whether he should enter Rome, or, possibly, simulating the intention of going thither, because he had resolved otherwise. He often landed at points in the neighborhood, visited the gardens by the Tiber, but went back again to the cliffs and to the solitude of the sea shores, in shame at the vices and profligacies into which he had plunged so unrestrainedly that in the fashion of a despot he debauched the children of free-born citizens. It was not merely beauty and a handsome person which he felt as an incentive to his lust, but the modesty of childhood in some, and noble ancestry in others. Hitherto unknown terms were then for the first time invented, derived from the abominations of the place and the endless phases of sensuality. Slaves too were set over the work of seeking out and procuring, with rewards for the willing, and threats to the reluctant, and if there was resistance from a relative or a parent, they used violence and force, and actually indulged their own passions as if dealing with captives.
At Rome meanwhile, in the beginning of the year, as if Livia’s crimes had just been discovered and not also long ago punished, terrible decrees were proposed against her very statues and memory, and the property of Sejanus was to be taken from the exchequer and transferred to the imperial treasury; as if there was any difference. The motion was being urged with extreme persistency, in almost the same or with but slightly changed language, by such men as Scipio, Silanus, and Cassius, when suddenly Togonius Gallus intruding his own obscurity among illustrious names, was heard with ridicule. He begged the emperor to select a number of senators, twenty out of whom should be chosen by lot to wear swords and to defend his person, whenever he entered the Senate House. The man had actually believed a letter from him in which he asked the protection of one of the consuls, so that he might go in safety from Capreae to Rome. Tiberius however, who usually combined jesting and seriousness, thanked the senators for their goodwill, but asked who could be rejected, who could be chosen? “Were they always to be the same, or was there to be a succession? Were they to be men who had held office or youths, private citizens or officials? Then, again, what a scene would be presented by persons grasping their swords on the threshold of the Senate House? His life was not of so much worth if it had to be defended by arms.” This was his answer to Togonius, guarded in its expression, and he urged nothing beyond the rejection of the motion.
Junius Gallio however, who had proposed that the praetorian soldiers, after having served their campaigns, should acquire the privilege of sitting in the fourteen rows of the theatre, received a savage censure. Tiberius, just as if he were face to face with him, asked what he had to do with the soldiers, who ought to receive the emperor’s orders or his rewards except from the emperor himself? He had really discovered something which the Divine Augustus had not foreseen. Or was not one of Sejanus’s satellites rather seeking to sow discord and sedition, as a means of prompting ignorant minds, under the pretence of compliment, to ruin military discipline? This was Gallio’s recompense for his carefully prepared flattery, with immediate expulsion from the Senate, and then from Italy. And as men complained that he would endure his exile with equanimity, since he had chosen the famous and lovely island of Lesbos, he was dragged back to Rome, and confined in the houses of different officials.
The emperor in the same letter crushed Sextius Paconianus, an ex-praetor, to the great joy of the senators, as he was a daring, mischievous man, who pryed into every person’s secrets, and had been the chosen instrument of Sejanus in his treacherous designs against Caius Caesar. When this fact was divulged, there came an outburst of long-concealed hatreds, and there must have been a sentence of capital punishment, had he not himself volunteered a disclosure.
As soon as he named Latinius Latiaris, accuser and accused, both alike objects of execration, presented a most welcome spectacle. Latiaris, as I have related, had been foremost in contriving the ruin of Titius Sabinus, and was now the first to pay the penalty. By way of episode, Haterius Agrippa inveighed against the consuls of the previous year for now sitting silent after their threats of impeaching one another. “It must be fear,” he said, “and a guilty conscience which are acting as a bond of union. But the senators must not keep back what they have heard.” Regulus replied that he was awaiting the opportunity for vengeance, and meant to press it in the emperor’s presence. Trio’s answer was that it was best to efface the memory of rivalries between colleagues, and of any words uttered in quarrels. When Agrippa still persisted, Sanquinius Maximus, one of the ex-consuls, implored the Senate not to increase the emperor’s anxieties by seeking further occasions of bitterness, as he was himself competent to provide remedies. This secured the safety of Regulus and the postponement of Trio’s ruin. Haterius was hated all the more. Wan with untimely slumbers and nights of riot, and not fearing in his indolence even the cruellest of princes, he yet plotted amid his gluttony and lust the destruction of illustrious men.
Several charges were next brought, as soon as the opportunity offered, against Cotta Messalinus, the author of every unusually cruel proposal, and consequently, regarded with inveterate hatred. He had spoken, it was said, of Caius Caesar, as if it were a question whether he was a man, and of an entertainment at which he was present on Augusta’s birthday with the priests, as a funeral banquet. In remonstrating too against the influence of Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius, with whom he had disputes on many matters, he had added the remark, “They will have the Senate’s support; I shall have that of my darling Tiberius.” But the leading men of the State failed to convict him on all the charges. When they pressed the case, he appealed to the emperor. Soon afterwards, a letter arrived, in which Tiberius traced the origin of the friendship between himself and Cotta, enumerated his frequent services, and then requested that words perversely misrepresented and the freedom of table talk might not be construed into a crime.
The beginning of the emperor’s letter seemed very striking. It opened thus: “May all the gods and goddesses destroy me more miserably than I feel myself to be daily perishing, if I know at know at this moment what to write to you, Senators, how to write it, or what, in short, not to write.” So completely had his crimes and infamies recoiled, as a penalty, on himself. With profound meaning was it often affirmed by the greatest teacher of philosophy that, could the minds of tyrants be laid bare, there would be seen gashes and wounds; for, as the body is lacerated by scourging, so is the spirit by brutality, by lust and by evil thoughts. Assuredly Tiberius was not saved by his elevation or his solitude from having to confess the anguish of his heart and his self-inflicted punishment.
Authority was then given to the Senate to decide the case of Caecilianus, one of its members, the chief witness against Cotta, and it was agreed that the same penalty should be inflicted as on Aruseius and Sanquinius, the accusers of Lucius Arruntius. Nothing ever happened to Cotta more to his distinction. Of noble birth, but beggared by extravagance and infamous for his excesses, he was now by dignity of his revenge, raised to a level with the stainless virtues of Arruntius.
Quintus Servaeus and Minucius Thermus were next arraigned. Servaeus was an ex-praetor, and had formerly been a companion of Germanicus; Minucius was of equestrian rank, and both had enjoyed, though discreetly, the friendship of Sejanus. Hence they were the more pitied. Tiberius, on the contrary, denounced them as foremost in crime, and bade Caius Cestius, the elder, tell the Senate what he had communicated to the emperor by letter. Cestius undertook the prosecution. And this was the most dreadful feature of the age, that leading members of the Senate, some openly, some secretly employed themselves in the very lowest work of the informer. One could not distinguish between aliens and kinsfolk, between friends and strangers, or say what was quite recent, or what half-forgotten from lapse of time. People were incriminated for some casual remark in the forum or at the dinner-table, for every one was impatient to be the first to mark his victim, some to screen themselves, most from being, as it were, infected with the contagion of the malady.
Minucius and Servaeus, on being condemned, went over to the prosecution, and then Julius Africanus with Seius Quadratus were dragged into the same ruin. Africanus was from the Santones, one of the states of Gaul; the origin of Quadratus I have not ascertained. Many authors, I am well aware, have passed over the perils and punishments of a host of persons, sickened by the multiplicity of them, or fearing that what they had themselves found wearisome and saddening would be equally fatiguing to their readers. For myself, I have lighted on many facts worth knowing, though other writers have not recorded them.
A Roman knight, Marcus Terentius, at the crisis when all others had hypocritically repudiated the friendship of Sejanus, dared, when impeached on that ground, to cling to it by the following avowal to the Senate: “In my position it is perhaps less to my advantage to acknowledge than to deny the charge. Still, whatever is to be the issue of the matter, I shall admit that I was the friend of Sejanus, that I anxiously sought to be such, and was delighted when I was successful. I had seen him his father’s colleague in the command of the praetorian cohorts, and subsequently combining the duties of civil and military life. His kinsfolk and connections were loaded with honours; intimacy with Sejanus was in every case a powerful recommendation to the emperor’s friendship. Those, on the contrary, whom he hated, had to struggle with danger and humiliation. I take no individual as an instance. All of us who had no part in his last design, I mean to defend at the peril of myself alone. It was really not Sejanus of Vulsinii, it was a member of the Claudian and Julian houses, in which he had taken a position by his marriage-alliance, it was your son-in-law, Caesar, your partner in the consulship, the man who administered your political functions, whom we courted. It is not for us to criticise one whom you may raise above all others, or your motives for so doing. Heaven has intrusted you with the supreme decision of affairs, and for us is left the glory of obedience. And, again, we see what takes place before our eyes, who it is on whom you bestow riches and honours, who are the most powerful to help or to injure. That Sejanus was such, no one will deny. To explore the prince’s secret thoughts, or any of his hidden plans, is a forbidden, a dangerous thing, nor does it follow that one could reach them.
“Do not, Senators, think only of Sejanus’s last day, but of his sixteen years of power. We actually adored a Satrius and a Pomponius. To be known even to his freedmen and hall-porters was thought something very grand. What then is my meaning? Is this apology meant to be offered for all without difference and discrimination? No; it is to be restricted within proper limits. Let plots against the State, murderous designs against the emperor be punished. As for friendship and its obligations, the same principle must acquit both you, Caesar, and us.”
The courage of this speech and the fact that there had been found a man to speak out what was in all people’s thoughts, had such an effect that the accusers of Terentius were sentenced to banishment or death, their previous offences being taken into account. Then came a letter from Tiberius against Sextus Vestilius, an ex-praetor, whom, as a special favourite of his brother Drusus, the emperor had admitted into his own select circle. His reason for being displeased with Vestilius was that he had either written an attack on Caius Caesar as a profligate, or that Tiberius believed a false charge. For this Vestilius was excluded from the prince’s table. He then tried the knife with his aged hand, but again bound up his veins, opening them once more however on having begged for pardon by letter and received a pitiless answer. After him a host of persons were charged with treason, Annius Pollio, Appius Silanus, Scaurus Mamercus, Sabinus Calvisius, Vinicianus too, coupled with Pollio, his father, men all of illustrious descent, some too of the highest political distinction. The senators were panic-stricken, for how few of their number were not connected by alliance or by friendship with this multitude of men of rank! Celsus however, tribune of a city cohort, and now one of the prosecutors, saved Appius and Calvisius from the peril. The emperor postponed the cases of Pollio, Vinicianus, and Scaurus, intending to try them himself with the Senate, not however without affixing some ominous marks to the name of Scaurus.
Even women were not exempt from danger. Where they could not be accused of grasping at political power, their tears were made a crime. Vitia, an aged woman, mother of Fufius Geminus, was executed for bewailing the death of her son. Such were the proceedings in the Senate. It was the same with the emperor. Vescularius Atticus and Julius Marinus were hurried off to execution, two of his oldest friends, men who had followed him to Rhodes and been his inseparable companions at Capreae. Vescularius was his agent in the plot against Libo, and it was with the co-operation of Marinus that Sejanus had ruined Curtius Atticus. Hence there was all the more joy at the recoil of these precedents on their authors.
About the same time Lucius Piso, the pontiff, died a natural death, a rare incident in so high a rank. Never had he by choice proposed a servile motion, and, whenever necessity was too strong for him, he would suggest judicious compromises. His father, as I have related, had been a censor. He lived to the advanced age of eighty, and had won in Thrace the honour of a triumph. But his chief glory rested on the wonderful tact with which as city-prefect he handled an authority, recently made perpetual and all the more galling to men unaccustomed to obey it.
In former days, when the kings and subsequently the chief magistrates went from Rome, an official was temporarily chosen to administer justice and provide for emergencies, so that the capital might not be left without government. It is said that Denter Romulius was appointed by Romulus, then Numa Marcius by Tullus Hostilius, and Spurius Lucretius by Tarquinius Superbus. Afterwards, the consuls made the appointment. The shadow of the old practice still survives, whenever in consequence of the Latin festival some one is deputed to exercise the consul’s functions. And Augustus too during the civil wars gave Cilnius Maecenas, a Roman knight, charge of everything in Rome and Italy. When he rose to supreme power, in consideration of the magnitude of the State and the slowness of legal remedies, he selected one of the exconsuls to overawe the slaves and that part of the population which, unless it fears a strong hand, is disorderly and reckless. Messala Corvinus was the first to obtain the office, which he lost within a few days, as not knowing how to discharge it. After him Taurus Statilius, though in advanced years, sustained it admirably; and then Piso, after twenty years of similar credit, was, by the Senate’s decree, honoured with a public funeral.
A motion was next brought forward in the Senate by Quintilianus, a tribune of the people, respecting an alleged book of the Sibyl. Caninius Gallus, a book of the College of the Fifteen, had asked that it might be received among the other volumes of the same prophetess by a decree on the subject. This having been carried by a division, the emperor sent a letter in which he gently censured the tribune, as ignorant of ancient usage because of his youth. Gallus he scolded for having introduced the matter in a thin Senate, notwithstanding his long experience in the science of religious ceremonies, without taking the opinion of the College or having the verses read and criticised, as was usual, by its presidents, though their authenticity was very doubtful. He also reminded him that, as many spurious productions were current under a celebrated name, Augustus had prescribed a day within which they should be deposited with the city-praetor, and after which it should not be lawful for any private person to hold them. The same regulations too had been made by our ancestors after the burning of the Capitol in the social war, when there was a search throughout Samos, Ilium, Erythrae, and even in Africa, Sicily and the Italian colonies for the verses of the Sibyl (whether there were but one or more) and the priests were charged with the business of distinguishing, as far as they could by human means, what were genuine. Accordingly the book in question was now also submitted to the scrutiny of the College of the Fifteen.
During the same consulship a high price of corn almost brought on an insurrection. For several days there were many clamorous demands made in the theatre with an unusual freedom of language towards the emperor. This provoked him to censure the magistrates and the Senate for not having used the authority of the State to put down the people. He named too the corn-supplying provinces, and dwelt on the far larger amount of grain imported by himself than by Augustus. So the Senate drew up a decree in the severe spirit of antiquity, and the consuls issued a not less stringent proclamation. The emperor’s silence was not, as he had hoped, taken as a proof of patriotism, but of pride.
At the year’s close Geminius, Celsus and Pompeius, Roman knights, fell beneath a charge of conspiracy. Of these Caius Geminius, by lavish expenditure and a luxurious life, had been a friend of Sejanus, but with no serious result. Julius Celsus, a tribune, while in confinement, loosened his chain, and having twisted it around him, broke his neck by throwing himself in an opposite direction. Rubrius Fabatus was put under surveillance, on a suspicion that, in despair of the fortunes of Rome, he meant to throw himself on the mercy of the Parthians. He was, at any rate, found near the Straits of the Sicily, and, when dragged back by a centurion, he assigned no adequate reason for his long journey. Still, he lived on in safety, thanks to forgetfulness rather than to mercy.
In the consulship of Servius Galba and Lucius Sulla, the emperor, after having long considered whom he was to choose to be husbands for his granddaughters, now that the maidens were of marriageable age, selected Lucius Cassius and Marcus Vinicius. Vinicius was of provincial descent; he was born at Cales, his father and grandfather having been consuls, and his family, on the other side, being of the rank of knights. He was a man of amiable temper and of cultivated eloquence. Cassius was of an ancient and honourable, though plebeian house, at Rome. Though he was brought up by his father under a severe training, he won esteem more frequently by his good-nature than by his diligence. To him and to Vinicius the emperor married respectively Drusilla and Julia, Germanicus’s daughters, and addressed a letter on the subject to the Senate, with a slightly complimentary mention of the young men. He next assigned some very vague reasons for his absence, then passed to more important matters, the ill-will against him originating in his state policy, and requested that Macro, who commanded the praetorians, with a few tribunes and centurions, might accompany him whenever he entered the Senate-house. But though a decree was voted by the Senate on a liberal scale and without any restrictions as to rank or numbers, he never so much as went near the walls of Rome, much less the State-council, for he would often go round and avoid his native city by circuitous routes.
Meanwhile a powerful host of accusers fell with sudden fury on the class which systematically increased its wealth by usury in defiance of a law passed by Caesar the Dictator defining the terms of lending money and of holding estates in Italy, a law long obsolete because the public good is sacrificed to private interest. The curse of usury was indeed of old standing in Rome and a most frequent cause of sedition and discord, and it was therefore repressed even in the early days of a less corrupt morality. First, the Twelve Tables prohibited any one from exacting more than 10 per cent., when, previously, the rate had depended on the caprice of the wealthy. Subsequently, by a bill brought in by the tribunes, interest was reduced to half that amount, and finally compound interest was wholly forbidden. A check too was put by several enactments of the people on evasions which, though continually put down, still, through strange artifices, reappeared. On this occasion, however, Gracchus, the praetor, to whose jurisdiction the inquiry had fallen, felt himself compelled by the number of persons endangered to refer the matter to the Senate. In their dismay the senators, not one of whom was free from similar guilt, threw themselves on the emperor’s indulgence. He yielded, and a year and six months were granted, within which every one was to settle his private accounts conformably to the requirements of the law.
Hence followed a scarcity of money, a great shock being given to all credit, the current coin too, in consequence of the conviction of so many persons and the sale of their property, being locked up in the imperial treasury or the public exchequer. To meet this, the Senate had directed that every creditor should have two-thirds his capital secured on estates in Italy. Creditors however were suing for payment in full, and it was not respectable for persons when sued to break faith. So, at first, there were clamorous meetings and importunate entreaties; then noisy applications to the praetor’s court. And the very device intended as a remedy, the sale and purchase of estates, proved the contrary, as the usurers had hoarded up all their money for buying land. The facilities for selling were followed by a fall of prices, and the deeper a man was in debt, the more reluctantly did he part with his property, and many were utterly ruined. The destruction of private wealth precipitated the fall of rank and reputation, till at last the emperor interposed his aid by distributing throughout the banks a hundred million sesterces, and allowing freedom to borrow without interest for three years, provided the borrower gave security to the State in land to double the amount. Credit was thus restored, and gradually private lenders were found. The purchase too of estates was not carried out according to the letter of the Senate’s decree, rigour at the outset, as usual with such matters, becoming negligence in the end.
Former alarms then returned, as there was a charge of treason against Considius Proculus. While he was celebrating his birthday without a fear, he was hurried before the Senate, condemned and instantly put to death. His sister Sancia was outlawed, on the accusation of Quintus Pomponius, a restless spirit, who pretended that he employed himself in this and like practices to win favour with the sovereign, and thereby alleviate the perils hanging over his brother Pomponius Secundus.
Pompeia Macrina too was sentenced to banishment. Her husband Argolicus and her father-in-law Laco, leading men of Achaia, had been ruined by the emperor. Her father likewise, an illustrious Roman knight, and her brother, an ex-praetor, seeing their doom was near, destroyed themselves. It was imputed to them as a crime that their great-grandfather Theophanes of Mitylene had been one of the intimate friends of Pompey the Great, and that after his death Greek flattery had paid him divine honours.
Sextus Marius, the richest man in Spain, was next accused of incest with his daughter, and thrown headlong from the Tarpeian rock. To remove any doubt that the vastness of his wealth had proved the man’s ruin, Tiberius kept his gold-mines for himself, though they were forfeited to the State. Executions were now a stimulus to his fury, and he ordered the death of all who were lying in prison under accusation of complicity with Sejanus. There lay, singly or in heaps, the unnumbered dead, of every age and sex, the illustrious with the obscure. Kinsfolk and friends were not allowed to be near them, to weep over them, or even to gaze on them too long. Spies were set round them, who noted the sorrow of each mourner and followed the rotting corpses, till they were dragged to the Tiber, where, floating or driven on the bank, no one dared to burn or to touch them. The force of terror had utterly extinguished the sense of human fellowship, and, with the growth of cruelty, pity was thrust aside.
About this time Caius Caesar, who became his grandfather’s companion on his retirement to Capreae, married Claudia, daughter of Marcus Silanus. He was a man who masked a savage temper under an artful guise of self-restraint, and neither his mother’s doom nor the banishment of his brothers extorted from him a single utterance. Whatever the humour of the day with Tiberius, he would assume the like, and his language differed as little. Hence the fame of a clever remark from the orator Passienus, that “there never was a better slave or a worse master.”
I must not pass over a prognostication of Tiberius respecting Servius Galba, then consul. Having sent for him and sounded him on various topics, he at last addressed him in Greek to this effect: “You too, Galba, will some day have a taste of empire.” He thus hinted at a brief span of power late in life, on the strength of his acquaintance with the art of astrologers, leisure for acquiring which he had had at Rhodes, with Thrasyllus for instructor. This man’s skill he tested in the following manner.
Whenever he sought counsel on such matters, he would make use of the top of the house and of the confidence of one freedman, quite illiterate and of great physical strength. The man always walked in front of the person whose science Tiberius had determined to test, through an unfrequented and precipitous path (for the house stood on rocks), and then, if any suspicion had arisen of imposture or of trickery, he hurled the astrologer, as he returned, into the sea beneath, that no one might live to betray the secret. Thrasyllus accordingly was led up the same cliffs, and when he had deeply impressed his questioner by cleverly revealing his imperial destiny and future career, he was asked whether he had also thoroughly ascertained his own horoscope, and the character of that particular year and day. After surveying the positions and relative distances of the stars, he first paused, then trembled, and the longer he gazed, the more was he agitated by amazement and terror, till at last he exclaimed that a perilous and well-nigh fatal crisis impended over him. Tiberius then embraced him and congratulated him on foreseeing his dangers and on being quite safe. Taking what he had said as an oracle, he retained him in the number of his intimate friends.
When I hear of these and like occurrences, I suspend my judgment on the question whether it is fate and unchangeable necessity or chance which governs the revolutions of human affairs. Indeed, among the wisest of the ancients and among their disciples you will find conflicting theories, many holding the conviction that heaven does not concern itself with the beginning or the end of our life, or, in short, with mankind at all; and that therefore sorrows are continually the lot of the good, happiness of the wicked; while others, on the contrary, believe that though there is a harmony between fate and events, yet it is not dependent on wandering stars, but on primary elements, and on a combination of natural causes. Still, they leave us the capacity of choosing our life, maintaining that, the choice once made, there is a fixed sequence of events. Good and evil, again, are not what vulgar opinion accounts them; many who seem to be struggling with adversity are happy; many, amid great affluence, are utterly miserable, if only the first bear their hard lot with patience, and the latter make a foolish use of their prosperity.
Most men, however, cannot part with the belief that each person’s future is fixed from his very birth, but that some things happen differently from what has been foretold through the impostures of those who describe what they do not know, and that this destroys the credit of a science, clear testimonies to which have been given both by past ages and by our own. In fact, how the son of this same Thrasyllus predicted Nero’s reign I shall relate when the time comes, not to digress too far from my subject.
That same year the death of Asinius Gallus became known. That he died of starvation, there was not a doubt; whether of his own choice or by compulsion, was a question. The emperor was asked whether he would allow him to be buried, and he blushed not to grant the favour, and actually blamed the accident which had proved fatal to the accused before he could be convicted in his presence. Just as if in a three years’ interval an opportunity was wanting for the trial of an old ex-consul and the father of a number of ex-consuls.
Next Drusus perished, after having prolonged life for eight days on the most wretched of food, even chewing the stuffing, his bed. According to some writers, Macro had been instructed that, in case of Sejanus attempting an armed revolt, he was to hurry the young prince out of the confinement in which he was detained in the Palace and put him at the head of the people. Subsequently the emperor, as a rumour was gaining ground that he was on the point of a reconciliation with his daughter-in-law and his grandson, chose to be merciless rather than to relent.
He even bitterly reviled him after his death, taunting him with nameless abominations and with a spirit bent on his family’s ruin and hostile to the State. And, what seemed most horrible of all, he ordered a daily journal of all that he said and did to be read in public. That there had been spies by his side for so many years, to note his looks, his sighs, and even his whispered thoughts, and that his grandfather could have heard read, and published all, was scarce credible. But letters of Attius, a centurion, and Didymus, a freedman, openly exhibited the names of slave after slave who had respectively struck or scared Drusus as he was quitting his chamber. The centurion had actually added, as something highly meritorious, his own language in all its brutality, and some utterances of the dying man in which, at first feigning loss of reason, he imprecated in seeming madness fearful things on Tiberius, and then, when hope of life was gone, denounced him with a studied and elaborate curse. “As he had slain a daughter-in-law, a brother’s son, and son’s sons, and filled his whole house with bloodshed, so might he pay the full penalty due to the name and race of his ancestors as well as to future generations.”
The Senate clamorously interrupted, with an affectation of horror, but they were penetrated by alarm and amazement at seeing that a hitherto cunning prince, who had shrouded his wickedness in mystery, had waxed so bold as to remove, so to speak, the walls of his house and display his grandson under a centurion’s lash, amid the buffetings of slaves, craving in vain the last sustenance of life.
Men’s grief at all this had not died away when news was heard of Agrippina. She had lived on, sustained by hope, I suppose, after the destruction of Sejanus, and, when she found no abatement of horrors, had voluntarily perished, though possibly nourishment was refused her and a fiction concocted of a death that might seem self-chosen. Tiberius, it is certain, vented his wrath in the foulest charges. He reproached her with unchastity, with having had Asinius Gallus as a paramour and being driven by his death to loathe existence. But Agrippina, who could not endure equality and loved to domineer, was with her masculine aspirations far removed from the frailties of women. The emperor further observed that she died on the same day on which Sejanus had paid the penalty of his crime two years before, a fact, he said, to be recorded; and he made it a boast that she had not been strangled by the halter and flung down the Gemonian steps. He received a vote of thanks, and it was decreed that on the seventeenth of October, the day on which both perished, through all future years, an offering should be consecrated to Jupiter.
Soon afterwards Cocceius Nerva, a man always at the emperor’s side, a master of law both divine and human, whose position was secure and health sound, resolved to die. Tiberius, as soon as he knew it, sat by him and asked his reasons, adding intreaties, and finally protesting that it would be a burden on his conscience and a blot on his reputation, if the most intimate of his friends were to fly from life without any cause for death. Nerva turned away from his expostulations and persisted in his abstinence from all food. Those who knew his thoughts said that as he saw more closely into the miseries of the State, he chose, in anger and alarm, an honourable death, while he was yet safe and unassailed on.
Meanwhile Agrippina’s ruin, strange to say, dragged Plancina with it. Formerly the wife of Cneius Piso, and one who had openly exulted at the death of Germanicus, she had been saved, when Piso fell, by the intreaties of Augusta, and not less by the enmity of Agrippina. When hatred and favour had alike passed away, justice asserted itself. Pursued by charges universally notorious, she suffered by her own hand a penalty tardy rather than undeserved.
Amid the many sorrows which saddened Rome, one cause of grief was the marriage of Julia, Drusus’s daughter and Nero’s late wife, into the humbler family of Rubellius Blandus, whose grandfather many remembered as a Roman knight from Tibur. At the end of the year the death of Aelius Lamia, who, after being at last released from the farce of governing Syria, had become city-prefect, was celebrated with the honours of a censor’s funeral. He was a man of illustrious descent, and in a hale old age; and the fact of the province having been withheld gained him additional esteem. Subsequently, on the death of Flaccus Pomponius, propraetor of Syria, a letter from the emperor was read, in which he complained that all the best men who were fit to command armies declined the service, and that he was thus necessarily driven to intreaties, by which some of the ex-consuls might be prevailed on to take provinces. He forgot that Arruntius had been kept at home now for ten years, that he might not go to Spain.
That same year Marcus Lepidus also died. I have dwelt at sufficient length on his moderation and wisdom in my earlier books, and I need not further enlarge on his noble descent. Assuredly the family of the Aemilii has been rich in good citizens, and even the members of that house whose morals were corrupt, still lived with a certain splendour.
During the consulship of Paulus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius, the bird called the phoenix, after a long succession of ages, appeared in Egypt and furnished the most learned men of that country and of Greece with abundant matter for the discussion of the marvellous phenomenon. It is my wish to make known all on which they agree with several things, questionable enough indeed, but not too absurd to be noticed.
That it is a creature sacred to the sun, differing from all other birds in its beak and in the tints of its plumage, is held unanimously by those who have described its nature. As to the number of years it lives, there are various accounts. The general tradition says five hundred years. Some maintain that it is seen at intervals of fourteen hundred and sixty-one years, and that the former birds flew into the city called Heliopolis successively in the reigns of Sesostris, Amasis, and Ptolemy, the third king of the Macedonian dynasty, with a multitude of companion birds marvelling at the novelty of the appearance. But all antiquity is of course obscure. From Ptolemy to Tiberius was a period of less than five hundred years. Consequently some have supposed that this was a spurious phoenix, not from the regions of Arabia, and with none of the instincts which ancient tradition has attributed to the bird. For when the number of years is completed and death is near, the phoenix, it is said, builds a nest in the land of its birth and infuses into it a germ of life from which an offspring arises, whose first care, when fledged, is to bury its father. This is not rashly done, but taking up a load of myrrh and having tried its strength by a long flight, as soon as it is equal to the burden and to the journey, it carries its father’s body, bears it to the altar of the Sun, and leaves it to the flames. All this is full of doubt and legendary exaggeration. Still, there is no question that the bird is occasionally seen in Egypt.
Rome meanwhile being a scene of ceaseless bloodshed, Pomponius Labeo, who was, as I have related, governor of Moesia, severed his veins and let his life ebb from him. His wife, Paxaea, emulated her husband. What made such deaths eagerly sought was dread of the executioner, and the fact too that the condemned, besides forfeiture of their property, were deprived of burial, while those who decided their fate themselves, had their bodies interred, and their wills remained valid, a recompense this for their despatch. The emperor, however, argued in a letter to the Senate that it had been the practice of our ancestors, whenever they broke off an intimacy, to forbid the person their house, and so put an end to friendship. “This usage he had himself revived in Labeo’s case, but Labeo, being pressed by charges of maladministration in his province and other crimes, had screened his guilt by bringing odium on another, and had groundlessly alarmed his wife, who, though criminal, was still free from danger.”
Mamercus Scaurus was then for the second time impeached, a man of distinguished rank and ability as an advocate, but of infamous life. He fell, not through the friendship of Sejanus, but through what was no less powerful to destroy, the enmity of Macro, who practised the same arts more secretly. Macro’s information was grounded on the subject of a tragedy written by Scaurus, from which he cited some verses which might be twisted into allusions to Tiberius. But Servilius and Cornelius, his accusers, alleged adultery with Livia and the practice of magical rites. Scaurus, as befitted the old house of the Aemilii, forestalled the fatal sentence at the persuasion of his wife Sextia, who urged him to die and shared his death.
Still the informers were punished when ever an opportunity occurred. Servilius and Cornelius, for example, whom the destruction of Scaurus had made notorious, were outlawed and transported to some islands for having taken money from Varius Ligur for dropping a prosecution. Abudius Ruso too, who had been an aedile, in seeking to imperil Lentulus Gaetulicus, under whom he had commanded a legion, by alleging that he had fixed on a son of Sejanus for his son-in-law, was himself actually condemned and banished from Rome. Gaetulicus at this time was in charge of the legions of Upper Germany, and had won from them singular affection, as a man of unbounded kindliness, moderate in his strictness, and popular even with the neighbouring army through his father-in-law, Lucius Apronius. Hence rumour persistently affirmed that he had ventured to send the emperor a letter, reminding him that his alliance with Sejanus had not originated in his own choice, but in the advice of Tiberius; that he was himself as liable to be deceived as Tiberius, and that the same mistake ought not to be held innocent in the prince and be a source of ruin to others. His loyalty was still untainted and would so remain, if he was not assaIled by any plot. A successor he should accept as an announcement of his doom. A compact, so to say, ought to be sealed between them, by which he should retain his province, and the emperor be master of all else. Strange as this story was, it derived credibility from the fact that Gaetulicus alone of all connected with Sejanus lived in safety and in high favour, Tiberius bearing in mind the people’s hatred, his own extreme age how his government rested more on prestige than on power.
In the consulship of Caius Cestius and Marcus Servilius, some Parthian nobles came to Rome without the knowledge of their king Artabanus. Dread of Germanicus had made that prince faithful to the Romans and just to his people, but he subsequently changed this behaviour for insolence towards us and tyranny to his subjects. He was elated by the wars which he had successfully waged against the surrounding nations, while he disdained the aged and, as he thought, unwarlike Tiberius, eagerly coveting Armenia, over which, on the death of Artaxias, he placed Arsaces, his eldest son. He further added insult, and sent envoys to reclaim the treasures left by Vonones in Syria and Cilicia. Then too he insisted on the ancient boundaries of Persia and Macedonia, and intimated, with a vainglorious threat, that he meant to seize on the country possessed by Cyrus and afterwards by Alexander.
The chief adviser of the Parthians in sending the secret embassy was Sinnaces, a man of distinguished family and corresponding wealth. Next in influence was Abdus, an eunuch, a class which, far from being despised among barbarians, actually possesses power. These, with some other nobles whom they admitted to their counsels, as there was not a single Arsacid whom they could put on the throne, most of the family having been murdered by Artabanus or being under age, demanded that Phraates, son of king Phraates, should be sent from Rome. “Only a name,” they said, “and an authority were wanted; only, in fact, that, with Caesar’s consent, a scion of the house of Arsaces should show himself on the banks of the Euphrates.”
This suited the wishes of Tiberius. He provided Phraates with what he needed for assuming his father’s sovereignty, while he clung to his purpose of regulating foreign affairs by a crafty policy and keeping war at a distance. Artabanus meanwhile, hearing of the treacherous arrangement, was one moment perplexed by apprehension, the next fired with a longing for revenge. With barbarians, indecision is a slave’s weakness; prompt action king-like. But now expediency prevailed, and he invited Abdus, under the guise of friendship, to a banquet, and disabled him by a lingering poison; Sinnaces he put off by pretexts and presents, and also by various employments. Phraates meanwhile, on arriving in Syria, where he threw off the Roman fashions to which for so many years he had been accustomed, and adapted himself to Parthian habits, unable to endure the customs of his country, was carried off by an illness. Still, Tiberius did not relinquish his purpose. He chose Tiridates, of the same stock as Artabanus, to be his rival, and the Iberian Mithridates to be the instrument of recovering Armenia, having reconciled him to his brother Pharasmanes, who held the throne of that country. He then intrusted the whole of his eastern policy to Lucius Vitellius. The man, I am aware, had a bad name at Rome, and many a foul story was told of him. But in the government of provinces he acted with the virtue of ancient times. He returned, and then, through fear of Caius Caesar and intimacy with Claudius, he degenerated into a servility so base that he is regarded by an after-generation as the type of the most degrading adulation. The beginning of his career was forgotten in its end, and an old age of infamy effaced the virtues of youth.
Of the petty chiefs Mithridates was the first to persuade Pharasmanes to aid his enterprise by stratagem and force, and agents of corruption were found who tempted the servants of Arsaces into crime by a quantity of gold. At the same instant the Iberians burst into Armenia with a huge host, and captured the city of Artaxata. Artabanus, on hearing this, made his son Orodes the instrument of vengeance. He gave him the Parthian army and despatched men to hire auxiliaries. Pharasmanes, on the other hand, allied himself with the Albanians, and procured aid from the Sarmatae, whose highest chiefs took bribes from both sides, after the fashion of their countrymen, and engaged themselves in conflicting interests. But the Iberians, who were masters of the various positions, suddenly poured the Sarmatae into Armenia by the Caspian route. Meanwhile those who were coming up to the support of the Parthians were easily kept back, all other approaches having been closed by the enemy except one, between the sea and the mountains on the Albanian frontier, which summer rendered difficult, as there the shallows are flooded by the force of the Etesian gales. The south wind in winter rolls back the waves, and when the sea is driven back upon itself, the shallows along the coast, are exposed.
Meantime, while Orodes was without an ally, Pharasmanes, now strengthened by reinforcements, challenged him to battle, taunted him on his refusal, rode up to his camp and harassed his foraging parties. He often hemmed him in with his picquets in the fashion of a blockade, till the Parthians, who were unused to such insults, gathered round the king and demanded battle. Their sole strength was in cavalry; Pharasmanes was also powerful in infantry, for the Iberians and Albanians, inhabiting as they did a densely wooded country, were more inured to hardship and endurance. They claim to have been descended from the Thessalians, at the period when Jason, after the departure of Medea and the children born of her, returned subsequently to the empty palace of Aeetes, and the vacant kingdom of Colchi. They have many traditions connected with his name and with the oracle of Phrixus. No one among them would think of sacrificing a ram, the animal supposed to have conveyed Phrixus, whether it was really a ram or the figure-head of a ship.
Both sides having been drawn up in battle array, the Parthian leader expatiated on the empire of the East, and the renown of the Arsacids, in contrast to the despicable Iberian chief with his hireling soldiery. Pharasmanes reminded his people that they had been free from Parthian domination, and that the grander their aims, the more glory they would win if victorious, the more disgrace and peril they would incur if they turned their backs. He pointed, as he spoke, to his own menacing array, and to the Median bands with their golden embroidery; warriors, as he said, on one side, spoil on the other.
Among the Sarmatae the general’s voice was not alone to be heard. They encouraged one another not to begin the battle with volleys of arrows; they must, they said, anticipate attack by a hand to hand charge. Then followed every variety of conflict. The Parthians, accustomed to pursue or fly with equal science, deployed their squadrons, and sought scope for their missiles. The Sarmatae, throwing aside their bows, which at a shorter range are effective, rushed on with pikes and swords. Sometimes, as in a cavalry-action, there would be alternate advances and retreats, then, again, close fighting, in which, breast to breast, with the clash of arms, they repulsed the foe or were themselves repulsed. And now the Albanians and Iberians seized, and hurled the Parthians from their steeds, and embarrassed their enemy with a double attack, pressed as they were by the cavalry on the heights and by the nearer blows of the infantry. Meanwhile Pharasmanes and Orodes, who, as they cheered on the brave and supported the wavering, were conspicuous to all, and so recognised each other, rushed to the combat with a shout, with javelins, and galloping chargers, Pharasmanes with the greater impetuosity, for he pierced his enemy’s helmet at a stroke. But he could not repeat the blow, as he was hurried onwards by his horse, and the wounded man was protected by the bravest of his guards. A rumour that he was slain, which was believed by mistake, struck panic into the Parthians, and they yielded the victory.
Artabanus very soon marched with the whole strength of his kingdom, intent on vengeance. The Iberians from their knowledge of the country fought at an advantage. Still Artabanus did not retreat till Vitellius had assembled his legions and, by starting a report that he meant to invade Mesopotamia, raised an alarm of war with Rome. Armenia was then abandoned, and the fortunes of Artabanus were overthrown, Vitellius persuading his subjects to forsake a king who was a tyrant in peace, and ruinously unsuccessful in war. And so Sinnaces, whose enmity to the prince I have already mentioned, drew into actual revolt his father Abdageses and others, who had been secretly in his counsel, and were now after their continued disasters more eager to fight. By degrees, many flocked to him who, having been kept in subjection by fear rather than by goodwill, took courage as soon as they found leaders.
Artabanus had now no resources but in some foreigners who guarded his person, men exiled from their own homes, who had no perception of honour, or any scruple about a base act, mere hireling instruments of crime. With these attendants he hastened his flight into the remote country on the borders of Scythia, in the hope of aid, as he was connected by marriage alliances with the Hyrcanians and Carmanians. Meantime the Parthians, he thought, indulgent as they are to an absent prince, though restless under his presence, might turn to a better mind.
Vitellius, as soon as Artabanus had fled and his people were inclined to have a new king, urged Tiridates to seize the advantage thus offered, and then led the main strength of the legions and the allies to the banks of the Euphrates. While they were sacrificing, the one, after Roman custom, offering a swine, a ram and a bull; the other, a horse which he had duly prepared as a propitiation to the river-god, they were informed by the neighbouring inhabitants that the Euphrates, without any violent rains, was of itself rising to an immense height, and that the white foam was curling into circles like a diadem, an omen of a prosperous passage. Some explained it with more subtlety, of a successful commencement to the enterprise, which, however, would not be lasting, on the ground, that though a confident trust might be placed in prognostics given in the earth or in the heavens, the fluctuating character of rivers exhibited omens which vanished the same moment.
A bridge of boats having been constructed and the army having crossed, the first to enter the camp was Ornospades, with several thousand cavalry. Formerly an exile, he had rendered conspicuous aid to Tiberius in the completion of the Dalmatic war, and had for this been rewarded with Roman citizenship. Subsequently, he had again sought the friendship of his king, by whom he had been raised to high honour, and appointed governor of the plains, which, being surrounded by the waters of those famous rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, have received the name of Mesopotamia. Soon afterwards, Sinnaces reinforced the army, and Abdageses, the mainstay of the party, came with the royal treasure and what belonged to the crown. Vitellius thought it enough to have displayed the arms of Rome, and he then bade Tiridates remember his grandfather Phraates, and his foster-father Caesar, and all that was glorious in both of them, while the nobles were to show obedience to their king, and respect for us, each maintaining his honour and his loyalty. This done, he returned with the legions to Syria.
I have related in sequence the events of two summer-campaigns, as a relief to the reader’s mind from our miseries at home. Though three years had elapsed since the destruction of Sejanus, neither time, intreaties, nor sated gratification, all which have a soothing effect on others, softened Tiberius, or kept him from punishing doubtful or forgotten offenses as most flagrant and recent crimes. Under this dread, Fulcinius Trio, unwilling to face an onslaught of accusers, inserted in his will several terrible imputations on Macro and on the emperor’s principal freedmen, while he taunted the emperor himself with the mental decay of old age, and the virtual exile of continuous retirement. Tiberius ordered these insults, which Trio’s heirs had suppressed, to be publicly read, thus showing his tolerance of free speech in others and despising his own shame, or, possibly, because he had long been ignorant of the villanies of Sejanus, and now wished any remarks, however reckless, to published, and so to ascertain, through invective, if it must be so, the truth, which flattery obscures. About the same time Granius Marcianus, a senator, who was accused of treason by Caius Gracchus, laid hands on himself. Tarius Gratianus too, an ex-praetor, was condemned under the same law to capital punishment.
A similar fate befell Trebellienus Rufus and Sextius Paconianus. Trebellienus perished by his own hand; Paconianus was strangled in prison for having there written some lampoons on the emperor. Tiberius received the news, no longer parted by the sea, as he had been once, or through messengers from a distance, but in close proximity to Rome, so that on the same day, or after the interval of a single night, he could reply to the despatches of the consuls, and almost behold the bloodshed as it streamed from house to house, and the strokes of the executioner.
At the year’s close Poppaeus Sabinus died, a man of somewhat humble extraction, who had risen by his friendship with two emperors to the consulship and the honours of a triumph. During twenty-four years he had the charge of the most important provinces, not for any remarkable ability, but because he was equal to business and was not too great for it.
Quintus Plautius and Sextus Papinius were the next consuls. The fact that that year Lucius Aruseius was put to death did not strike men as anything horrible, from their familiarity with evil deeds. But there was a panic when Vibulenus Agrippa, a Roman knight, as soon as his accusers had finished their case, took from his robe, in the very Senate-house, a dose of poison, drank it off, and, as he fell expiring, was hurried away to prison by the prompt hands of lictors, where the neck of the now lifeless man was crushed with the halter. Even Tigranes, who had once ruled Armenia and was now impeached, did not escape the punishment of an ordinary citizen on the strength of his royal title.
Caius Galba meanwhile and the Blaesi perished by a voluntary death; Galba, because a harsh letter from the emperor forbade him to have a province allotted to him; while, as for the Blaesi, the priesthoods intended for them during the prosperity of their house, Tiberius had withheld, when that prosperity was shaken, and now conferred, as vacant offices, on others. This they understood as a signal of their doom, and acted on it.
Aemilia Lepida too, whose marriage with the younger Drusus I have already related, who, though she had pursued her husband with ceaseless accusations, remained unpunished, infamous as she was, as long as her father Lepidus lived, subsequently fell a victim to the informers for adultery with a slave. There was no question about her guilt, and so without an attempt at defence she put an end to her life.
At this same time the Clitae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian Archelaus, retreated to the heights of Mount Taurus, because they were compelled in Roman fashion to render an account of their revenue and submit to tribute. There they defended themselves by means of the nature of the country against the king’s unwarlike troops, till Marcus Trebellius, whom Vitellius, the governor of Syria, sent as his lieutenant with four thousand legionaries and some picked auxiliaries, surrounded with his lines two hills occupied by the barbarians, the lesser of which was named Cadra, the other Davara. Those who dared to sally out, he reduced to surrender by the sword, the rest by drought.
Tiridates meanwhile, with the consent of the Parthians, received the submission of Nicephorium, Anthemusias and the other cities, which having been founded by Macedonians, claim Greek names, also of the Parthian towns Halus and Artemita. There was a rivalry of joy among the inhabitants who detested Artabanus, bred as he had been among the Scythians, for his cruelty, and hoped to find in Tiridates a kindly spirit from his Roman training.
Seleucia, a powerful and fortified city which had never lapsed into barbarism, but had clung loyally to its founder Seleucus, assumed the most marked tone of flattery. Three hundred citizens, chosen for wealth or wisdom, form a kind of senate, and the people have powers of their own. When both act in concert, they look with contempt on the Parthians; as soon as they are at discord, and the respective leaders invite aid for themselves against their rivals, the ally summoned to help a faction crushes them all. This had lately happened in the reign of Artabanus, who, for his own interest, put the people at the mercy of the nobles. As a fact, popular government almost amounts to freedom, while the rule of the few approaches closely to a monarch’s caprice.
Seleucia now celebrated the arrival of Tiridates with all the honours paid to princes of old and all which modern times, with a more copious inventiveness, have devised. Reproaches were at the same time heaped on Artabanus, as an Arsacid indeed on his mother’s side, but as in all else degenerate. Tiridates gave the government of Seleucia to the people. Soon afterwards, as he was deliberating on what day he should inaugurate his reign, he received letters from Phraates and Hiero, who held two very powerful provinces, imploring a brief delay. It was thought best to wait for men of such commanding influence, and meanwhile Ctesiphon, the seat of empire, was their chosen destination. But as they postponed their coming from day to day, the Surena, in the presence of an approving throng, crowned Tiridates, according to the national usage, with the royal diadem.
And now had he instantly made his way to the heart of the country and to its other tribes, the reluctance of those who wavered, would have been overpowered, and all to a man would have yielded. By besieging a fortress into which Artabanus had conveyed his treasure and his concubines, he gave them time to disown their compact. Phraates and Hiero, with others who had not united in celebrating the day fixed for the coronation, some from fear, some out of jealousy of Abdageses, who then ruled the court and the new king, transferred their allegiance to Artabanus. They found him in Hyrcania, covered with filth and procuring sustenance with his bow. He was at first alarmed under the impression that treachery was intended, but when they pledged their honour that they had come to restore to him his dominion, his spirit revived, and he asked what the sudden change meant. Hiero then spoke insultingly of the boyish years of Tiridates, hinting that the throne was not held by an Arsacid, but that a mere empty name was enjoyed by a feeble creature bred in foreign effeminacy, while the actual power was in the house of Abdageses.
An experienced king, Artabanus knew that men do not necessarily feign hatred because they are false in friendship. He delayed only while he was raising auxiliaries in Scythia, and then pushed on in haste, thus anticipating the plots of enemies and the fickleness of friends. Wishing to attract popular sympathy, he did not even cast off his miserable garb. He stooped to wiles and to entreaties, to anything indeed by which he might allure the wavering and confirm the willing.
He was now approaching the neighbourhood of Seleucia with a large force, while Tiridates, dismayed by the rumour. and then by the king’s presence in person, was divided in mind, and doubted whether he should march against him or prolong the war by delay. Those who wished for battle with its prompt decision argued that ill-arrayed levies fatigued by a long march could not even in heart be thoroughly united in obedience, traitors and enemies as they had lately been, to the prince whom now again they were supporting. Abdageses, however, advised a retreat into Mesopotamia. There, with a river in their front, they might in the interval summon to their aid the Armenians and Elymaeans and other nations in their rear, and then, reinforced by allies and troops which would be sent by the Roman general, they might try the fortune of war. This advice prevailed, for Abdageses had the chief influence and Tiridates was a coward in the face of danger. But their retreat resembled a flight. The Arabs made a beginning, and then the rest went to their homes or to the camp of Artabanus, till Tiridates returned to Syria with a few followers and thus relieved all from the disgrace of desertion.
That same year Rome suffered from a terrible fire, and part of the circus near the Aventine hill was burnt, as well as the Aventine quarter itself. This calamity the emperor turned to his own glory by paying the values of the houses and blocks of tenements. A hundred million of sesterces was expended in this munificence, a boon all the more acceptable to the populace, as Tiberius was rather sparing in building at his private expense. He raised only two structures even at the public cost, the temple of Augustus and the stage of Pompey’s theatre, and when these were completed, he did not dedicate them, either out of contempt for popularity or from his extreme age. Four commissioners, all husbands of the emperor’s granddaughters — Cneius Domitius, Cassius Longinus, Marcus Vinicius, Rubellius Blandus — were appointed to assess the damage in each case, and Publius Petronius was added to their number on the nomination of the consuls. Various honours were devised and decreed to the emperor such as each man’s ingenuity suggested. It is a question which of these he rejected or accepted, as the end of his life was so near.
For soon afterwards Tiberius’s last consuls, Cneius Acerronius and Caius Pontius, entered on office, Macro’s power being now excessive. Every day the man cultivated more assiduously than ever the favour of Caius Caesar, which, indeed, he had never neglected, and after the death of Claudia, who had, as I have related, been married to Caius, he had prompted his wife Ennia to inveigle the young prince by a pretence of love, and to bind him by an engagement of marriage, and the lad, provided he could secure the throne, shrank from no conditions. For though he was of an excitable temper, he had thoroughly learnt the falsehoods of hypocrisy under the loving care of his grandfather.
This the emperor knew, and he therefore hesitated about bequeathing the empire, first, between his grandsons. Of these, the son of Drusus was nearest in blood and natural affection, but he was still in his childhood. Germanicus’s son was in the vigour of youth and enjoyed the people’s favour, a reason for having his grandfather’s hatred. Tiberius had even thought of Claudius, as he was of sedate age and had a taste for liberal culture, but a weak intellect was against him. If however he were to seek a successor outside of his house, he feared that the memory of Augustus and the name of the Caesars would become a laughing-stock and a scorn. It was, in fact, not so much popularity in the present for which he cared as for glory in the future.
Perplexed in mind, exhausted in body, he soon left to destiny a question to which he was unequal, though he threw out some hints from which it might be inferred that he foresaw what was to come. He taunted Macro, in no obscure terms, with forsaking the setting and looking to the rising sun. Once too when Caius Caesar in a casual conversation ridiculed Lucius Sulla, he predicted to him that he would have all Sulla’s vices and none of his virtues. At the same moment he embraced the younger of his two grandsons with a flood of tears, and, noting the savage face of the other, said, “You will slay this boy, and will be yourself slain by another.” But even while his strength was fast failing he gave up none of his debaucheries. In his sufferings he would simulate health, and was wont to jest at the arts of the physician and at all who, after the age of thirty, require another man’s advice to distinguish between what is beneficial or hurtful to their constitutions.
At Rome meanwhile were being sown the seeds of bloodshed to come even after Tiberius’s death. Acutia, formerly the wife of Publius Vitellius, had been accused of treason by Laelius Balbus. When on her condemnation a reward was being voted to her prosecutor, Junius Otho, tribune of the people, interposed his veto. Hence a feud between Vitellius and Otho, ending in Otho’s banishment. Then Albucilla, notorious for the number of her lovers, who had been married to Satrius Secundus, the betrayer of the late conspiracy, was charged with irreverence towards the emperor. With her were involved as her accomplices and paramours Cneius Domitius, Vibius Marsus and Lucius Arruntius. I have already spoken of the illustrious rank of Domitius. Marsus too was distinguished by the honours of his ancestors and by his own attainments. It was, however, stated in the notes of the proceedings furnished to the Senate that Macro had superintended the examination of the witnesses and the torture of the slaves, and the fact that there was no letter from the emperor against the defendants caused a suspicion that, while he was very feeble and possibly ignorant of the matter, the charge was to a great extent invented to gratify Macro’s well-known enmity against Arruntius.
And so Domitius and Marsus prolonged their lives, Domitius, preparing his defence, Marsus, having apparently resolved on starvation. Arruntius, when his friends advised delay and temporising, replied that “the same conduct was not becoming in all persons. He had had enough of life, and all he regretted was that he had endured amid scorn and peril an old age of anxious fears, long detested by Sejanus, now by Macro, always, indeed, by some powerful minister, not for any fault, but as a man who could not tolerate gross iniquities. Granted the possibility of passing safely through the few last days of Tiberius. How was he to be secure under the youth of the coming sovereign? Was it probable that, when Tiberius with his long experience of affairs was, under the influence of absolute power, wholly perverted and changed, Caius Caesar, who had hardly completed his boyhood, was thoroughly ignorant and bred under the vilest training, would enter on a better course, with Macro for his guide, who having been selected for his superior wickedness, to crush Sejanus had by yet more numerous crimes been the scourge of the State? He now foresaw a still more galling slavery, and therefore sought to flee alike from the past and from the impending future.”
While he thus spoke like a prophet, he opened his veins. What followed will be a proof that Arruntius rightly chose death. Albucilla, having stabbed herself with an ineffectual wound, was by the Senate’s order carried off to prison. Those who had ministered to her profligacy, Carsidius Sacerdos, an ex-praetor, and Pontius Fregellanus were sentenced, respectively, to transportation to an island and to loss of a senator’s rank. A like punishment was adjudged in the case of Laelius Balbus, and, indeed, with intense satisfaction, as Balbus was noted for his savage eloquence and his eagerness to assail the innocent.
About the same time Sextus Papinius, who belonged to a family of consular rank, chose a sudden and shocking death, by throwing himself from a height. The cause was ascribed to his mother who, having been repeatedly repulsed in her overtures, had at last by her arts and seductions driven him to an extremity from which he could find no escape but death. She was accordingly put on her trial before the Senate, and, although she grovelled at the knees of the senators and long urged a parent’s grief, the greater weakness of a woman’s mind under such an affliction and other sad and pitiful pleas of the same painful kind, she was after all banished from Rome for ten years, till her younger son would have passed the frail period of youth.
Tiberius’s bodily powers were now leaving him, but not his skill in dissembling. There was the same stern spirit; he had his words and looks under strict control, and occasionally would try to hide his weakness, evident as it was, by a forced politeness. After frequent changes of place, he at last settled down on the promontory of Misenum in a country-house once owned by Lucius Lucullus. There it was noted, in this way, that he was drawing near his end. There was a physician, distinguished in his profession, of the name of Charicles, usually employed, not indeed to have the direction of the emperor’s varying health, but to put his advice at immediate disposal. This man, as if he were leaving on business his own, clasped his hand, with a show of homage, and touched his pulse. Tiberius noticed it. Whether he was displeased and strove the more to hide his anger, is a question; at any rate, he ordered the banquet to be renewed, and sat at the table longer than usual, by way, apparently, of showing honour to his departing friend. Charicles, however, assured Macro that his breath was failing and that he would not last more than two days. All was at once hurry; there were conferences among those on the spot and despatches to the generals and armies. On the 15th of March, his breath failing, he was believed to have expired, and Caius Caesar was going forth with a numerous throng of congratulating followers to take the first possession of the empire, when suddenly news came that Tiberius was recovering his voice and sight, and calling for persons to bring him food to revive him from his faintness. Then ensued a universal panic, and while the rest fled hither and thither, every one feigning grief or ignorance, Caius Caesar, in silent stupor, passed from the highest hopes to the extremity of apprehension. Macro, nothing daunted, ordered the old emperor to be smothered under a huge heap of clothes, and all to quit the entrance-hall.
And so died Tiberius, in the seventy eighth year of his age. Nero was his father, and he was on both sides descended from the Claudian house, though his mother passed by adoption, first into the Livian, then into the Julian family. From earliest infancy, perilous vicissitudes were his lot. Himself an exile, he was the companion of a proscribed father, and on being admitted as a stepson into the house of Augustus, he had to struggle with many rivals, so long as Marcellus and Agrippa and, subsequently, Caius and Lucius Caesar were in their glory. Again his brother Drusus enjoyed in a greater degree the affection of the citizens. But he was more than ever on dangerous ground after his marriage with Julia, whether he tolerated or escaped from his wife’s profligacy. On his return from Rhodes he ruled the emperor’s now heirless house for twelve years, and the Roman world, with absolute sway, for about twenty-three. His character too had its distinct periods. It was a bright time in his life and reputation, while under Augustus he was a private citizen or held high offices; a time of reserve and crafty assumption of virtue, as long as Germanicus and Drusus were alive. Again, while his mother lived, he was a compound of good and evil; he was infamous for his cruelty, though he veiled his debaucheries, while he loved or feared Sejanus. Finally, he plunged into every wickedness and disgrace, when fear and shame being cast off, he simply indulged his own inclinations.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01