After the fall of the second Julia up to the time of his death, which occurred August 23, in the year 14 A.D., Augustus had no further serious griefs over the ladies of his family. The great misfortune of the last years of his government was a public misfortune—the defeat of Varus and the loss of Germany. But with what sadness must he have looked back in the last weeks of his long life upon the history of his family! All those whom he had loved were torn from him before their time by a cruel destiny: Drusus, Caius, and Lucius Caesar by death; the Julias by the cruelty of the law and by an infamy worse than death. The unique grandeur to which he had attained had not brought fortune to his family. He was old, almost alone, a weary survivor among the tombs of those dear to him who had been untimely lost through fate, and with the still sadder memories of those who had been buried in a living grave of infamy. His only associates were Tiberius, with whom he had become reconciled; Antonia, his sweet and highly respected daughter-in-law; and Livia, the woman whom destiny had placed at his side in one of the most critical moments of his life, the faithful companion through fifty-two years of his varied and wonderful fortune. We can therefore understand why it was that, as the historians tell us, the last words of the old emperor should have been a tender expression of gratitude to his faithful wife. "Farewell, farewell, Livia! Remember our long union!" With these words, rendering homage to the wife whom custom and the law had made the faithful and loving companion, and not the docile slave, of her husband, he ended his life like a true Roman.
If the family of Augustus had undergone grievous vicissitudes during his life, its situation became even more dangerous after his death. The historian who sets out with the preconceived notion that Augustus founded a monarchy, and imagines that his family was destined to enjoy the privileges which in all monarchies are accorded the sovereign's house, will never arrive at a complete understanding of the story of the first empire. His family did, to be sure, always enjoy a privileged status, if not at law, at least in fact, and through the very force of circumstances; but it was not for naught that Rome had been for many centuries an aristocratic republic in which all the families of the nobility had considered themselves equal, and had been subject to the same laws. The aristocracy avenged itself upon the imperial family for the privileges which the lofty dignity of its head assured it by giving it hatred instead of respect. They suspected and calumniated all of its members, and with a malicious joy subjected them, whenever possible, to the common laws and even maltreated with particular ferocity those who by chance fell under the provisions of any statute. As a compensation for the privileges which the royal family enjoyed, they had to assume the risk of receiving the harshest penalties of the laws. If any of them, therefore, fell under the rigor of these laws, the senatorial aristocracy especially was ever eager to enjoy the atrocious satisfaction of seeing one of the favored tortured as much as or more than the ordinary man. There is no doubt, for example, that the two Julias were more severely punished and disgraced than other ladies of the aristocracy guilty of the same crime. And Augustus was forced to waive his affection for them in order that it might not be said, particularly in the senate, that his relatives enjoyed special favors and that Augustus made laws only for others.
Yet as long as Augustus lived, he was a sufficient protection for his relatives. He was, especially in the last twenty years of his life, the object of an almost religious veneration. The great and stormy epoch out of which he had risen, the extraordinary fortune which had assisted him, his long reign, the services both real and imaginary which he had rendered the empire—all had conferred upon him such an authority that envy laid aside its most poisonous darts before him. Out of respect for him even his family was not particularly calumniated or maltreated, save now and then in moments of great irritation, as when the two Julias were condemned. But after his death the situation grew considerably worse; for Tiberius, although he was a man of great capacity and merit, a sagacious administrator and a valiant general, did not enjoy the sympathy and respect which had been accorded to Augustus. Rather was he hated by those who had for a long time sided with Caius and Lucius Caesar and who formed a considerable portion of the senate and the aristocracy. It was not the spontaneous admiration of the senate and of the people, but the exigencies of the situation, which had made him master of the government when Augustus died. The empire was at war with the Germans, and the Pannonico-Illyrian provinces were in revolt, and it was necessary to place at the head of the empire a man who should strike terror to the hearts of the barbarians and who on occasion should be able to combat them. Tiberius, furthermore, was so well aware that the majority of the senate and the Roman people would submit to his government only through force, that he had for a long time been in doubt whether to accept the empire or not, so completely did he understand that with so many enemies it would be difficult to rule.
Under the government of Tiberius the imperial family was surrounded by a much more intense and open hatred than under Augustus. One couple only proved an exception, Germanicus and Agrippina, who were very sympathetic to the people. But right here began the first serious difficulties for Tiberius. Germanicus was twenty-nine years old when Tiberius took over the empire, and about him there began to form a party which by courting and flattering both him and his wife began to set him up against Tiberius. In this they were unconsciously aided by Agrippina. Unlike her sister Julia, she was a lady of blameless life; faithfully in love with her husband; a true Roman matron, such as tradition had loved; chaste and fruitful, who at the age of twenty-six had already borne nine children, of whom, however, six had died. But Agrippina was to show that in the house of Augustus, in those tumultuous, strange times, virtue was not less dangerous than vice, though in another way and for different reasons. She was so proud of her fidelity to her husband and of the admiration which she aroused at Rome that all the other defects of her character were exaggerated and increased by her excessive pride in her virtue. And among these defects should be counted a great ambition, a kind of harum-scarum and tumultuous activity, an irreflective impetuosity of passion, and a dangerous lack of balance and judgment. Agrippina was not evil; she was ambitious, violent, intriguing, imprudent, and thoughtless, and therefore could easily adapt her own feelings and interests to what seemed expedient. She had much influence over her husband, whom she accompanied upon all his journeys; and out of the great love she bore him, in which her own ambition had its part, she urged him on to support that hidden movement which was striving to oppose Germanicus to the emperor.
That two parties were not formed was due very largely to the fact that Germanicus was sufficiently reasonable not to allow himself to be carried too far by the current which favored him, and possibly also to the fact that during the entire reign of Tiberius his mother Antonia was the most faithful and devoted friend of the emperor. After his divorce from Julia, Tiberius had not married again, and the offices of tenderness which a wife should have given him were discharged in part by his mother, but largely by his sister-in-law. No one exercised so much influence as Antonia over the diffident and self-centered spirit of the emperor. Whoever wished to obtain a favor from him could do no better than to intrust his cause to Antonia. There is no doubt, therefore, that Antonia checked her son, and in his society counterbalanced the influence of his wife.
But even if two parties were not formed, it was not long before other difficulties arose. Discord soon made itself felt between Livia and Agrippina. More serious still was the fact that Germanicus, who, after the death of Augustus, had been sent as a legate to Gaul, initiated a German policy contrary to the instructions given him by Tiberius. This was due partly to his own impetuous temperament and partly to the goadings of his wife and the flatterers who surrounded him. Tiberius, whom the Germans knew from long experience, no longer wished to molest them. The revolt of Arminius proved that when their independence was threatened by Rome they were capable of uniting and becoming dangerous; when left to themselves they destroyed one another by continual wars. It was advisable, therefore, according to Tiberius, not to attack or molest them, but at the proper moment to fan the flames of their continual dissensions and wars in order that, while destroying themselves, they should leave the empire in peace. This wise and prudent policy might please a seasoned soldier like Tiberius, who had already won his laurels in many wars and who had risen to the pinnacle of glory and power. It did not please the pushing and eager youth Germanicus, who was anxious to distinguish himself by great and brilliant exploits, and who had at his side, as a continual stimulus, an ambitious and passionate wife, surrounded by a court of flatterers. Germanicus, on his own initiative, crossed the Rhine and took up the offensive again all along the line, attacking the most powerful of the German tribes one after the other in important and successful expeditions. At Rome this bold move was naturally looked upon with pleasure, especially by the numerous enemies of Tiberius, either because boldness in politics rather than prudence always pleases those who have nothing to lose, or because it was felt that the glory which accrued to Germanicus might offend the emperor. And Tiberius, though he did disapprove, allowed his adopted son to continue for a time, doubtless in order that he might not have to shock public opinion and that it might not seem that he wished to deprive the youthful Germanicus of the glory which he was gaining for himself.
He was nevertheless resolved not to allow Germanicus to involve Rome too deeply in German affairs, and when it seemed to him that the youth had fittingly proved his prowess and had made the enemies of Rome feel its power sufficiently, he recalled him and in his stead sent Drusus, who was his real, and not his adopted, son. But this recall did not at all please the party of Germanicus, who were loud and bitter in their recriminations. They began to murmur that Tiberius was jealous of Germanicus and his popularity; that he had recalled him in order to prevent his winning glory by an immortal achievement. Tiberius so little thought of keeping Germanicus from using his brilliant qualities in the service of Rome that shortly after, in the year 18 A.D., he sent him into the Orient to introduce order into Armenia, which was shaken by internal dissensions, and he gave him a command there not less important than the one of which he had deprived him. At the same time he was unwilling to intrust things entirely to the judgment of Germanicus, in whom he recognized a young man of capacity and valor, but, nevertheless, a young man influenced by an imprudent wife and incited by an irresponsible court of flatterers. For this reason he placed at his side an older and more experienced man in whom he had the fullest confidence—Cnaeus Piso, a senator who belonged to one of the most illustrious families in Rome.
It was the duty of Cnaeus Piso to counsel, to restrain, and to aid the young Germanicus, and doubtless also to keep Tiberius informed of all that Germanicus was doing in the East. When we remember that Tiberius was responsible for the empire, no one will deny him the right of setting a guard upon the young man of thirty-three, into whose hands had been intrusted many and serious interests. But though this idea was warrantable in itself, it became the source of great woe. Germanicus was offended, and, driven on by his friends, he broke with Piso. The latter had brought with him his wife Plancina, who was a close friend of Livia, just as Germanicus had brought Agrippina. The two wives fell to quarreling no less furiously than their husbands, and two parties were formed in the Orient, one for Piso and one for Germanicus, who accused each other of illegality, extortion, and assuming unwarranted powers; and each thought only of undoing what the other had accomplished. It is difficult to tell which of the two was right or in how far either was right or wrong, for the documents are too few and the account of Tacitus, clouded by an undiscerning antipathy, sheds no light upon this dark secret. In any case, we are sure that Germanicus did not always respect the laws and that he occasionally acted with a supreme heedlessness which now and then forced Tiberius to intervene personally, as he did on the occasion when Germanicus left his province with Agrippina in order that, dressed like a Greek philosopher, he might make a tour of Egypt and see that country, which then, as now, attracted the attention of persons of culture. But at that time, unlike the present, there was an ordinance of Augustus which forbade Roman senators to set foot in Egypt without special permission. As he had paid no attention to this prohibition, we need not be astonished if we find that Germanicus did not respect as scrupulously as Tiberius wished all the laws which defined his powers and set limits to his authority.
However that may be, the dissension between Germanicus and Piso filled the entire Orient with confusion and disorder, and it was early echoed at Rome, where the party hostile to Tiberius continued to accuse him, out of motives of hatred and jealousy, of forever laying new obstacles in the way of his adopted son. Livia, too, now no longer protected by Augustus, became a target for the accusations of a malevolent public opinion. It was said that she persecuted Germanicus out of hatred for Agrippina. Tiberius was much embarrassed, being hampered by public opinion favorable to Germanicus and at the same time desiring that his sons should set an example of obedience to the laws.
A sudden catastrophe still further complicated the situation. In 19 A.D. Germanicus was taken ill at Antioch. The malady was long and marked by periods of convalescence and relapses, but finally, like his father and like his brothers-in-law, Germanicus, too, succumbed to his destiny in the fullness of youth. At thirty-four, when life with her most winning smiles seemed to be stretching out her arms to him, he died. This one more untimely death brought to an abrupt end a most dangerous political struggle. Is it to be wondered at, then, that the people, whose imagination had been aroused, should have begun to murmur about poison? The party of Germanicus was driven to desperation by this death, which virtually ended its existence, and destroyed at a single stroke all the hopes of those who had seen in Germanicus the instrument of their future fortune. They therefore eagerly collected, embellished, and spread these rumors. Had Agrippina been a woman of any judgment or reflection, she would have been the first to see the absurdity of this foolish gossip; but as a matter of fact no one placed more implicit faith in such reports than she, now that affliction had rendered her even more impetuous and violent.
It was not long before every one at Rome had heard it said that Germanicus had been poisoned by Piso, acting, so it was intimated in whispers, at the bidding of Tiberius and Livia. Piso had been the tool of Tiberius; Plancina, the tool of Livia. The accusation is absurd; it is even recognized as such by Tacitus, who was actuated by a fierce hatred against Tiberius. We know from him how the accusers of Piso recounted that the poison had been drunk in a health at a banquet to which Piso had been invited by Germanicus and at which he was seated several places from his host; he was supposed to have poured the poison into his dishes in the presence of all the guests without any one having seen him! Tacitus himself says that every one thought this an absurd fable, and such every man of good sense will think it to-day. But hatred makes even intelligent persons believe fables even more absurd; the people favorable to Germanicus were embittered against Piso and would not listen to reason. All the enemies of Tiberius easily persuaded themselves that some atrocious mystery was hidden in this death and that, if they instituted proceedings against Piso, they might bring to light a scandal which would compromise the emperor himself. They even began to repeat that Piso possessed letters from Tiberius which contained the order to poison Germanicus.
At last Agrippina arrived at Rome with the ashes of her husband, and she began with her usual vehemence to fill the imperial house, the senate, and all Rome with protests, imprecations, and accusations against Piso. The populace, which admired her for her fidelity and love for her husband, was even more deeply stirred, and on every hand the cry was raised that an exemplary punishment ought to be meted out to so execrable a crime.
If at first Piso had treated these absurd charges with haughty disdain, he soon perceived that the danger was growing serious and that it was necessary for him to hasten his return to Rome, where a trial was now inevitable. One of Germanicus's friends had accused him; Agrippina, an unwitting tool in the hands of the emperor's enemies, every day stirred public opinion to still higher pitches of excitement through her grief and her laments; the party of Germanicus worked upon the senate and the people, and when Piso arrived at Rome he found that he had been abandoned by all. His hope lay in Tiberius, who knew the truth and who certainly desired that these wild notions be driven out of the popular mind. But Tiberius was watched with the most painstaking malevolence. Any least action in favor of Piso would have been interpreted as a decisive proof that he had been the murderer's accomplice and therefore wished to save him. In fact, it was being reported at Rome with ever-increasing insistence that at the trial Piso would show the letters of Tiberius. When the trial began, Livia, in the background, cleverly directed her thoughts to the saving of Plancina; but Tiberius could do no more for Piso than to recommend to the senate that they exercise the most rigorous impartiality. His noble speech on this occasion has been preserved for us by Tacitus. "Let them judge," he said, "without regard either for the imperial family or for the family of Piso." The admonition was useless, for his condemnation was a foregone conclusion, despite the absurdity of the charges. The enemies of Tiberius wished to force matters to the uttermost limit in the hope that the famous letters would have to be produced; and they acted with such frenzied hatred and excited public opinion to such a pitch that Piso killed himself before the end of the trial.
The violence of Agrippina had sent an innocent victim to follow the shade of her young husband. Despite bitter opposition, the emperor, through personal intervention, succeeded in saving the wife, the son, and the fortune of Piso, whose enemies had wished to exterminate his house root and branch. Tiberius thus offered a further proof that he was one of the few persons at Rome who were capable in that trying and troubled time of passing judgment and of reasoning with calm.
TIBERIUS AND AGRIPPINA
The blackest and most tragic period in the life of Tiberius begins with the death of Germanicus and the terrible scandal of the suit against Piso. It was to pass into history as the worst period of the "Tiberian tyranny"; for it was at this time that the famous Lex de majestate  (on high treason), which had not been applied under Augustus, came to be frequently invoked, and through its operation atrocious accusations, scandalous trials, and frightful condemnations were multiplied in Rome, to the terror of all. Many committed suicide in despair, and illustrious families were given over to ruin and infamy.
Posterity still holds Tiberius to account for these tragedies; his cruel and suspicious tyranny is made responsible for these accusations, for the suits which followed, and for the cruel condemnations in which they ended. It is said that every free mind which still remembered ancient Roman liberty gave him umbrage and caused him distress, and that he could suffer to have about him only slaves and hired assassins. But how far this is from the truth! How poorly the superficial judgment of posterity has understood the terrible tragedy of the reign, of Tiberius! We always forget that Tiberius was the next Roman emperor after Augustus; the first, that is, who had to bear the weight of the immense charge created by its founder, but without the immense prestige and respect which Augustus had derived from the extraordinary good fortune of his life, from the critical moment in which he had taken over the government, from the general opinion that he had ended the civil wars, brought peace back to an empire in travail, and saved Rome from the imminent ruin with which Egypt and Cleopatra had threatened it. For these reasons, while Augustus lived, the envy, jealousy, rivalry, and hatred of the new authority were held in check in his presence; but they were ever smoldering in the Roman aristocracy, which considered itself robbed of a part of its privileges, and always felt itself humiliated by this same authority, even when it was necessary to submit to it in cases of supreme political necessity. But all this envy, all these jealousies, all these rivalries,—I have said it before, but it is well to repeat it, since the point is of capital importance for the understanding of the whole history of the first empire,—were unleashed when Tiberius was exalted to the imperial dignity.
What in reality was the situation of Tiberius after the death of Germanicus? We must grasp it well if we wish to understand not only the cruelty of the accusations brought under the law of high treason, but also the whole family policy followed by the second emperor. It was he who had to bear the burden of the whole state, of the finances, of the supplies, of the army, of the home and foreign policies; his was the will that propelled, and the mind that regulated, all. To him every portion of the empire and every social class had recourse, and it was to him that they looked for redress for every wrong or inconvenience or danger. It was to him that the legions looked for their regular stipend, the common people of Rome for abundant grain, the senate for the preservation of boundaries and of the internal order; the provinces looked to him for justice, and the sovereign allies or vassals for the solution of all internal difficulties in which they became involved. These responsibilities were so numerous and so great that Tiberius, like Augustus, attempted to induce the senate to aid him by assuming its share, according to the ancient constitution; but it was in vain, for the senate sought to shield itself, and always left to him the heavier portion.
Is it conceivable that a man could have discharged so many responsibilities in times when the traditions of the government were only beginning to take form if he had not possessed a commanding personal authority, if he had not been the object of profound and general respect? Augustus would not have been able to govern so great an empire for more than forty years with such slight means had it not been for the fact, fortunate alike for himself and for the state, that he did enjoy this profound, sincere, and general admiration. Tiberius, on the other hand, who was already decidedly unpopular when he came into power, had seen this unpopularity increase during the first six years of his rule, despite all the efforts he had put forth to govern well. His solicitude about maintaining a certain order within the state was described as haughtiness and harshness, his preoccupation lest the precarious resources of the government be dissipated in useless expenditures was dubbed avarice, and the prudence which had impelled him to restrain the rash policy of expansion and aggression which Germanicus had tried to initiate beyond the Rhine was construed as envy and surly malignity. Against all considerations of justice, logic, or good sense, this accusation was repeated, and now that destiny had cut down Germanicus, he was accused sotto voce of being responsible for his death by many of the great families of Rome and even in senatorial circles. They treated it as most natural that through jealousy he should poison his own nephew, his adopted son, the popular descendant of Drusus, the son of that virtuous Antonia who was his best and most faithful friend! But if, after having been accepted as true by the great families of Rome who sent it on its rounds, such a report had been allowed to circulate through the empire, how much authority would have been left to an emperor who was suspected of so terrible a crime? How could he have maintained discipline in the army, of which he was the head, and order among the people of Rome, of whom, as tribune, he was the great protector? How could he have directed, urged on, or restrained the senate, of which he was, in the language of to-day, the president? The various Italian peoples from whom the army was drawn did not yet consider the head of the state a being so superior to the laws that it would be permissible for him to commit crimes which were branded as disgustingly repulsive to ordinary human nature.
No historian who understands the affairs of the world in general, and the story of the first century of the empire in particular, will attribute to ferocity or to the tyrannical spirit of Tiberius the increasingly harsh application of the Lex de majestate which followed the death of Germanicus and the trial of Piso. This harshness was the natural reaction against the delirium of atrocious calumnies against Tiberius which raged in the aristocracy of that time and especially in the house of Agrippina. For she, in spite of the undeniably virtuous character of her private life, was influenced by friends who, for motives of political advancement took advantage of her passions and inexperience.
Too credulous of Tacitus, many writers have severely characterized the facility and the severity with which the senate condemned those accused under the Lex de majestate: they consider it an indication of ignoble servility toward the emperor. Yet we know very well that the Roman senate at that time was not composed merely of adulators and hirelings; it still included many men of intelligence and character. We can explain this severity only by admitting that there were many persons in the senate who judged that the emperor could not be left defenseless against the wild slanders of the great families, since these extravagant and insidious calumnies compromised not only the prestige and the fame of the ruler, but also the tranquillity, the power, and the integrity of the empire. Undoubtedly the Lex de majestate did give rise in time to false accusations, to private reprisals, and to unjust sentences of condemnation. Although it had been devised to defend the prestige of the state in the person of the magistrates who represented it, the law was frequently invoked by senators who wished to vent their fiercest personal hatreds. Nor can it be denied that cupidity was the cause of many iniquitous calumnies directed against wealthy persons whose fortunes were coveted by their accusers. Yet we must go slow in accusing Tiberius of these excesses. Tacitus himself, who was averse to the emperor, recounts several incidents which show him in the act of intervening in trials of high treason for the benefit of the accused precisely for the purpose of hindering these excesses of private vengeance. The accounts which we have of many other trials are so brief and so biased that it is not fair for us to hazard a judgment.
We do know, however, that after the death of Germanicus there was formed at Rome, in the imperial family and the senate, a party of Agrippina, which began an implacable war upon Tiberius, and that Tiberius, the so-called tyrant, was at the beginning very weak, undecided, and vacillating in his resistance to this new opposition. His opponents did not spare his person; they did their best to spread the belief that the emperor was a poisoner, and persecuted him relentlessly with this calumny; they were already pushing forward Nero, the first-born son of Germanicus, though in 21 A.D. he was only fourteen years old, in order that he might in time be made the rival of Tiberius. The latter, indeed, tried at first to moderate the charges of high treason, his supreme defense; he feigned that he did not know or did not see many things, and instead of resisting, he began to make long sojourns away from Rome, thus turning over the capital, in which the pretorian guard remained, to the calumnies of his enemies. Of all these enemies the most terrible was Agrippina, who, passionate, vehement, without judgment, abused in good faith both the relationship which protected her and the pity which her misfortune had aroused. She allowed no occasion for taunting Tiberius with his pretended crime to escape her, using to this end not only words, but scenes and actions, which impressed the public even more strongly than open accusations could have done. A supper to which Tiberius had invited her became famous at Rome, for at it she refused obstinately and ostentatiously to touch any food or drink whatever, to the astonishment of the guests, who understood perfectly what her gestures meant. And such calumnies and such affronts Tiberius answered only with a weary and disdainful inertia; at most, when his patience was exhausted, some bitter and concise reproof would escape him.
I have no doubt that Tiberius had resolved at the beginning to avoid all harsh measures as far as possible; for unpopular, misunderstood, and detested as he was, he did not dare to use violence against a large part of the aristocracy and against his own house. Furthermore, Agrippina was the least intelligent of the women of the family, and her senseless opposition could be tolerated as long as Livia and Antonia, the two really serious ladies of the family, sided with Tiberius. But it is easy to understand that this situation could not long endure. A power which defends itself weakly against the attacks of its enemies is destined to sink rapidly into a decline, and the party of Agrippina would therefore quickly have gained favor and power had there not arisen, to sustain the vacillating strength of Tiberius, a man whose name was to become sadly famous—Sejanus—the commander of the pretorian guard.
Sejanus belonged to an obscure family of knights—to what we should now call the bourgeoisie. He was not a senator, and he held no great political position; for his charge as commander of the guard was a purely military office. In ordinary times he would have remained a secondary personage, exclusively concerned with the exacting duties of his command; but the party of Agrippina with its intrigues, and the weakness and uncertainty of Tiberius, made of him, however, for a certain time, a formidable power. It is not difficult to see whence this power arose. The loyalty of the pretorian guard, upon which depended the security and the safety of the imperial authority, was one of the things which must seriously have preoccupied Tiberius, particularly in the face of the persistent and insidious intrigues and accusations of the party of Agrippina. The guard lived at Rome, in continual contact with the senate and the imperial house. Everything which was said in the senatorial circles or in the palaces of the emperor or of his relatives was quickly repeated among the cohorts, and the memory of Drusus and Germanicus was deeply venerated by the pretorians. If the guard could have been persuaded that the emperor was a poisoner of his kindred, their loyalty would have been exposed to numberless intrigues and attempts at seduction. In such a condition of affairs, a commander of the guard who could inspire Tiberius with a complete and absolute trust might easily acquire a great influence over him. Sejanus knew how to inspire this trust. This was partly by reason of his origin, for the equestrian order, on account of its ancient rivalry with the senatorial nobility, was more favorably inclined than the latter toward the imperial authority; and partly also on account of certain reforms which he had succeeded in introducing into the pretorian guard.
Once he had acquired the emperor's confidence, the ambitious and intelligent prefect of the pretorians proceeded to render himself indispensable in all things. The moment was favorable; Tiberius was becoming more and more wearied of his many affairs, of his many struggles, of his countless responsibilities; more and more disgusted with Rome, with its society, with the too frequent contact with the men whom it was his fate to govern. He was in the earlier stages of that settled melancholy which grew deeper and deeper in the last ten years of his life, and which had grown upon him as the result of long antagonisms, of great bitterness, and of continual terrors and suspicions; and if it is true that Tiberius was addicted to the vice of heavy drinking, as we hear from ancient writers, the abuse of wine may also have had its part in producing it. The tyrant, as historians have been pleased to call him, did actually seem to weaken in the fight for those ideals in which he had so long and so ardently believed. He tried to please the people by advocating no measures that might seem harsh or excessive to them. He even resisted, in the year 22 A.D., the pressure that his own party—his own puritan party—brought to bear upon him to apply with the utmost severity and discipline the laws against the fast increasing luxury of the men and women of his day. His reply to such pressure was a letter to the senate in which he deplored, among other things, the passion that so many women were showing for jewels and precious stones imported from distant countries. He maintained that it was the fault of such women that so much gold left the country and pointed out how much more wisely the money could be spent in fortifying the boundaries of the empire.
In view of all this it is not difficult to understand why the man who for many years had done everything for himself, who had never wished to have either counselors or confidants about him, now that he was growing old needed the support of younger energies and of stronger wills. But in his family he could rely only upon his son Drusus, who had now become a serious and trustworthy man, and in the year 22 A.D. he asked the senate that it concede to his son the tribunician power; that is, that they make him his colleague. But the son did not suffice, and Sejanus therefore succeeded in making himself, together with Drusus, in fact, if not in name, the first and most active and influential collaborator and counselor of Tiberius. He was even more active and influential than Drusus, for the latter was frequently absent on distant military missions to the confines of the empire, while Sejanus, as commander of the pretorian guard, was virtually always at Rome, where the emperor now appeared less and less frequently.
Such was the origin of the anomalous power of this man, who was not even a senator—a power which was the result of the weakness of Tiberius and of the fierce discords which divided the aristocracy; and it was a power which must of necessity prove disastrous, especially to the party of Agrippina and Germanicus. Although indications are not lacking that there was no great harmony or friendship between Sejanus and Drusus, it is evident that Sejanus, as the energetic representative of the interests of Tiberius, must have directed all his efforts against the friends of Agrippina, who was arousing the fiercest opposition to the emperor. But in the year 23, an unforeseen event seemed suddenly to change the situation and to render possible a reconciliation between Tiberius and the party of Agrippina. In this year, Drusus also, like so many other members of his family, died prematurely, at the age of thirty-eight, and on this occasion, for the time being, at least, no one raised the cry of poisoning. This unexpected misfortune moved Tiberius profoundly, for he dearly loved his son, and it seemed for a moment to determine the triumph of Agrippina's party. Now that his son had been taken from him, where, if not among the sons of Germanicus and Agrippina, could Tiberius look for a successor? And, as a further proof that Tiberius desired as far as possible to avoid conflict in the bosom of his family, he did not hesitate a moment, despite all the annoyances and difficulties which he had suffered at the hands of Agrippina and her friends. He officially recognized that in the sons of Germanicus were henceforth placed the future hopes of his family and of the empire. Of the two elder, Nero was now sixteen and Drusus was somewhat younger, though we do not know his exact age. These he summoned to appear before the senate, and he presented them to the assembly with a noble discourse the substance of which Tacitus has preserved for us, exhorting the youths and the senate to fulfil their respective duties for the greatness and the prosperity of the republic.
After the death of Drusus, therefore, a reconciliation became possible in the family of the Caesars. The latent rivalry between the families of Tiberius and Germanicus was extinguished. Indeed, even in the midst of the tears shed for the early death of Drusus, a gleam of concord seems to have shone down upon the house desolated by many tragedies, while Sejanus, whose power depended upon the strife of the factions, was for a moment set aside and driven back into the shadows. But it was not to continue long; for soon the flames of discord broke out more violently than ever. Whom shall we blame, Sejanus or Agrippina? Tacitus says that it was the fault of Sejanus, whom he accuses of having tried to destroy the descendants of Germanicus, in order to usurp their place: but he himself is forced to admit in another passage (Annals iv., 59) that virtually a little court of freedmen and dependents gathered about Nero, the leader of the sons of Germanicus, urging him on against Tiberius and Sejanus, and begging him to act quickly. "This," they said, "is the will of the people, the desire of the armies. Nor would Sejanus, who was even then making light of the patience of the old man and of the dilatoriness of the youth, have dared to resist him." From such speeches it is only a short step to plans for rebellion and conspiracy. In all probability the blame for this later and more bitter dissension must, as usually happens, be divided between the two factions. The party of Agrippina, emboldened by its good fortune and by the weakness of Tiberius, was, after the death of Drusus, conscious of its own supremacy. Its members had only a single aim; even before it was possible they wished to see Nero, the first-born son of Germanicus, in the position of Tiberius. They therefore took up again their struggles and intrigues against Tiberius, and attempted to incite Nero against the emperor. But this time Sejanus was blocking their pathway. The death of Drusus had even further increased the trust and affection which the emperor had for his assistant, and he was henceforth the only confidant and the only friend of the emperor; a war without quarter between him and Agrippina, her sons and the party of Germanicus, was inevitable. And Sejanus opened the action by attempting to exclude from the magistracy and from office all the friends of Agrippina and all the members of the opposing faction. At this time it was difficult to arrive at any of the more important offices without being recommended to the senate by the emperor, against whose choice the senate no longer dared to rebel; since the emperor was held responsible for the conduct of the government, it was only just that he should be allowed to select his more important collaborators. Sejanus was therefore able, by using his influence over Tiberius, to lay a thousand difficulties and obstacles in the way of even the legitimate ambitions of the most eminent men of the opposite faction. Nor were these the only weapons employed; others no less efficacious were called into play, and intrigues, calumnies, accusations, and trials were set on foot without scruple and with a ferocity the horror of which Tacitus has painted with indelible colors. Among these intrigues two matrimonial projects must be mentioned. In the year 25 Sejanus attempted a bold stroke; he repudiated his wife Apicata, and asked Tiberius for the hand of Livilla (Livia), the widow of Drusus. Sejanus had frequented the political aristocracy of the empire, and, despite his equestrian origin, was quick to adopt not only their ambitions and their manners, but also their ideas on marriage. He, too, considered it as simply a political instrument, a means of acquiring and consolidating power. He had therefore disrupted his first family in order to contract this marriage, which would have redoubled his power and his influence and have introduced him into the imperial household. But his bold stroke failed, because Tiberius refused; and he refused, Tacitus tells us, above all because he was afraid that this marriage would still further irritate Agrippina. The emperor is supposed to have told Sejanus that too many feminine quarrels were already disturbing and agitating the house of the Caesars, to the serious detriment of his nephew's sons. And what would happen, he asked, if this marriage should still further foment existing hatreds? Quid si intendatur certamen tali conjugio? The reply is significant, because it proves to us that Tiberius, who is accused of harboring a fierce hate against the sons of Germanicus and Agrippina, was still seeking, two years after the death of Drusus, to appease both factions, attempting not to irritate his adversaries and to preserve a reasonable equanimity in the midst of these animosities and these struggles.
In any case, Sejanus was refused, and this refusal was a slight success for the party of Agrippina, which, a year later, in 26, attempted on its own account an analogous move. Agrippina asked Tiberius for permission to remarry. If we are to believe Tacitus, Agrippina made this request on her own initiative, impelled by one of those numerous and more or less reasonable caprices which were continually shooting through her head. But are we to suppose that suddenly, after a long widowhood, Agrippina put forth so strange a proposal without any arriere-pensee whatever? Furthermore, if this proposal had been merely the momentary caprice of a whimsical woman, would it have been so seriously debated in the imperial household, and would the daughter of Agrippina have recounted the episode in her memoirs? It is more probable that this marriage, too, had a political aim. By giving a husband to Agrippina, they were also seeking to give a leader to the anti-Tiberian party. The sons of Germanicus were too young, and Agrippina was too violent and tactless, to be able alone to cope successfully with Sejanus, supported as he was by Tiberius, by Livia, and by Antonia. We can thus explain why Tiberius opposed and prevented the marriage: Agrippina, unassisted, had caused him sufficient trouble; it would have been entirely superfluous for him to sanction her taking to herself an official counselor in the guise of a husband.
This time Sejanus triumphed over the ill success of his rivals, and the struggle continued in this manner between the two parties, but with an increasing advantage to Sejanus. Beginning with the year 26, we see numerous indications that the party of Agrippina and Germanicus was no longer able to resist the blows and machinations of Sejanus, who detached from it, one after another, all the men of any importance. He either won them over to himself through his favors and his promises, or he frightened them with his threats; and those who resisted most tenaciously, he destroyed with his suits.
Tiberius was the storm-center of these struggles, and contrary to what legend has reported, he attempted as far as he was able to prevent the two parties from going to extremes. But what pain, repugnance, and fatigue it must have cost him to make the effort necessary for maintaining a last ray of reason and justice among so many evil passions, animosities, ambitions, and rivalries! It must have cost him dearly, for he had grown up in the time when the dream of a great restoration of the aristocracy was luring the upper classes of Rome with its fairest and most luminous smile. As a young man he had known and loved Vergil, Horace, and Livy, the two poets and the historian of this great dream; like all the elect spirits of those now distant years, he had seen behind this vision a great senate, a glorious and terrible army, an austere and revered republic like that which Livy had pictured with glowing colors in his immortal pages.
Instead of all this, he was now forced to take his place at the head of this decadent and wretched nobility, which seemed to be interested only in rending itself asunder with calumnies, denunciations, suits, and scandalous condemnations, and which repaid him for all that he had done and was still doing for its safety and the prosperity of the empire by directing against his name the most atrocious calumnies, the fiercest railleries, and every sort of ridiculous and infamous legend. He had dreamed of victories over the enemies of Rome, and he had to resign himself to struggling day and night against the hysterical extravagance of Agrippina: he had to be content, even without the sure hope of success, if he could convince the majority that he was not a poisoner. Authority without glory or respect, power divorced from the means sufficient for its exercise—such was the situation in which the successor of Augustus, the second emperor, after twelve years of a difficult and trying reign, found himself. He no longer felt himself safe at Rome, where he feared rightly or wrongly that his life was being continually threatened, and it is not astonishing that, old, wearied, and disgusted, between the years 26 and 27 he should have retired definitely to Capri, seeking to hide his misanthropy, his weariness, and his disgust with men and things in the wonderful little isle which a delightful caprice of nature had set down in the lap of the divine Bay of Naples.
But instead of the peace he sought at Capri, Tiberius found the infamy of history. How dark and terrible are the memories of him associated with the charming isle, which, violet-tinted, on beautiful sunny days emerges from an azure sea against an azure sky! That fragment of paradise fallen upon the shore of one of the most beautiful seas in the world is said to have been for about ten years a hell of fierce cruelties and abominable vices. Tiberius passed sentence upon himself, in the opinion of posterity, when he secluded himself in Capri. Ought we, without a further word, to transcribe this sentence? There are, to be sure, no decisive arguments to prove false the accounts about the horrors of Capri which the ancients, and especially Suetonius, have transmitted to us; there are some, however, which make us mistrust and withhold our judgment. Above all, we have the right to ask ourselves how, from whom, and by access to what sources did Suetonius and the other ancients learn so many extraordinary details. It must be remembered that all the great figures in the history of Rome who had many enemies, like Sylla, Caesar, Antony, and Augustus himself, were accused of having scandalous habits. Precisely because the puritan tradition was strong at Rome, such an accusation did much harm, and for this reason, whether true or false, enemies were glad to repeat it whenever they wished to discredit a character. Lastly, all the ancient writers, even the most hostile, tell us that up to a ripe age Tiberius preserved his exemplary habits. Is it likely, then, that suddenly, when already old, he should have soiled himself with all the vices? At all events, if there is any truth contained in these accounts, we can at most conclude that as an old man Tiberius became subject to some mental infirmity and that the man who took refuge at Capri was no longer entirely sane.
Certain it is, in any case, that after his retirement to Capri, Tiberius seriously neglected public affairs, and that Sejanus was finally looked upon at Rome as the de facto emperor. The bulletins and reports which were sent from the empire and from Rome to the emperor passed through his hands, as well as the decisions which Tiberius sent back to the state. At Rome, in all affairs of serious or slight importance, the senators turned to Sejanus, and about him, whom all fell into the habit of considering as the true emperor, a court and party were formed. In fear of his great power, the senators and the old aristocracy suppressed the envy which the dizzy rise of this obscure knight had aroused. Rome suffered without protest that a man of obscure birth should rule the empire in the place of a descendant of the great Claudian family, and the senators of the most illustrious houses grew accustomed to paying him court. Worse still, virtually all of them aided him, either by openly favoring him or by allowing him a free hand, to complete the decisive destruction of the party and the family of Germanicus,—of that same Germanicus of whom all had been fond and whose memory the people still venerated.
After the retirement of Tiberius to Capri, all felt that Agrippina and her sons were inevitably doomed sooner or later to succumb in the duel with the powerful, ambitious, and implacable prefect of the pretorians who represented Tiberius at Rome. Only a few generous idealists remained faithful to the conquered, who were now near their destruction; such supporters as might possibly ease the misery of ruin, but not ward it off or avoid it. Among these last faithful and heroic friends was a certain Titius Sabinus, and the implacable Sejanus destroyed him with a suit of which Tacitus has given us an account, a horrible story of one of the most abominable judicial machinations which human perfidy can imagine. Dissensions arose to aggravate the already serious danger in which Agrippina and her friends had been placed. Nero, the first-born son, and Drusus, the second, became hostile at the very moment when they should have united against the ruthless adversary who wished to exterminate them all. A last rock of refuge remained to protect the family of Germanicus. It was Livia, the revered old lady who had been present at the birth of the fortunes of Augustus and the new imperial authority, and who had held in her arms that infant world which had been born in the midst of the convulsions of the civil wars, and a little later had watched it try its first steps on the pathway of history. Livia did not much love Agrippina, whose hatred and intrigues against Tiberius she had always blamed; but she was too wise and too solicitous of the prestige of the family to allow Sejanus entirely to destroy the house of Germanicus. As long as she lived, Agrippina and Nero could dwell safely in Rome. But Livia was feeble, and in the beginning of 29, at the age of eighty-six, she died. The catastrophe which had been carefully prepared by Sejanus was now consummated; a few months after the death of Livia, Agrippina and Nero were subjected to a suit, and, under an accusation of having conspired against Tiberius, were condemned to exile by the senate. Shortly after his condemnation, Nero committed suicide.
The account which Tacitus gives us of this trial is obscure, involved, and fragmentary, for the story is broken off at its most important point by an unfortunate lacuna in the manuscript. The other historians add but little light with their brief phrases and passing allusions. We do not therefore entirely understand either the contents of the charges, the reason for the condemnation, the stand taken by the accused, or the conduct of Tiberius with regard to the accusation. It seems hardly probable that Agrippina and Nero could have been truly guilty of a real conspiracy against Tiberius. Isolated as they had been by Sejanus after the retirement of Tiberius to Capri, they would scarcely have been able to set a conspiracy on foot, even if they had so desired. They were paying the penalty for the long war of calumnies and slanders which they had waged upon Tiberius, for the aversion and the scorn which they had always shown for him. In this course of conduct many senators had encouraged them as long as Tiberius alone had not dared to have recourse to violent and cruel measures in order to make himself respected by his family. But such acts of disrespect became serious crimes for the unfortunate woman and her hapless son, even in the eyes of the senators who had encouraged them to commit them, now that Sejanus had reinvigorated the imperial authority with his energy, and now that all felt that behind Tiberius and in his name and place there was acting a man of decision who knew how to punish his enemies and to reward his friends.
The trial and condemnation of Agrippina and Nero were certainly the machinations of Sejanus, who carried along with him not only the senate and the friends of the imperial family, but perhaps even Tiberius himself. They prove how much Sejanus had been able to strengthen imperial authority, which had been hesitating and feeble in the last decade. Sejanus had dared to do what Tiberius had never succeeded in doing; he had destroyed that center of opposition which gathered about Agrippina in the house of Germanicus. It is therefore scarcely necessary to say that the ruin of Agrippina still further increased the power of Sejanus. All bowed trembling before the man who had dared humiliate the very family of the Julio-Claudii. Honors were showered upon his head; he was made senator and pontifex; he received the proconsular power; there was talk of a marriage between him and the widow of Nero; and it was finally proposed that he be named consul for five years. Indeed, in 31, through the will of Tiberius, he actually became the colleague of the emperor himself in the consulate. He needed only the tribunician power to make him the official collaborator of the emperor and his designated successor. Every one at Rome, furthermore, considered him the future prince.
But having arrived at this height, Sejanus's head was turned, and he asked himself why he should exercise the rule and have all its burdens and dangers while he left to others the pomp, the honors, and the advantages. Although Tiberius allowed the senate to heap honors upon his faithful prefect of the pretorians, and though he himself showed his gratitude to him in many ways, even going to the point of being willing to give him the widow of Nero in marriage, he never really expected to take him as his colleague or to designate him as his successor. Tiberius was a Claudian, and that a knight without ancestry should be placed at the head of the Roman aristocracy was to him unthinkable; after the exile of Nero he had cast his eyes upon Caius, another son of Germanicus, as his possible successor. Nor had he hidden his intention: he had even clearly expressed it in different speeches to the senate. Therefore Sejanus must finally have come to the conclusion that if he continued to defend Tiberius and his interests, he could no longer hope for anything from him, and might even compromise the influence and the popularity which he had already acquired. Tiberius was hated and detested, there was a numerous party opposed to him in the senate, and he was extremely unpopular among the masses. Many admired Sejanus through spiteful hatred of Tiberius, for it amounted to saying that they preferred to be governed by an obscure knight rather than by an old and detested Claudian who had shut himself up in Capri.
And thus Sejanus seems to have deluded himself into believing that if he succeeded in doing away with the emperor, he could easily take his position by setting aside the young son of Germanicus and profiting by the popularity which the fall of Tiberius would bring him. Little by little he came to an understanding with the enemies of Tiberius and prepared a conspiracy for the final overthrow of the odious government of the son of Livia. Many senators had agreed to this, and certainly few conspiracies were ever organized under more favorable auspices. Tiberius was old, disgusted with everything and everybody, and alone in Capri; he had virtually not a single friend in Rome; what happened in the world he knew only through what Sejanus told him. He was therefore entirely in the hands of the man who was preparing to sacrifice him to the tenacious hatred of the people and the senatorial aristocracy. Young, energetic, and the favorite of fortune, Sejanus had with him a formidable party in the senate, he was the commander of the pretorian guard,—that is, of the only military force stationed in Italy,—and he had terrified with his implacable persecutions all those whom he had failed to win over through his promises or his favors. Could the duel between this misanthropic old man and this vigorous, energetic, ruthless climber end in any other way than with the defeat of the former?
But now stepping forward suddenly from the shadows to which she had retired, a lady appeared, threw herself between the two contestants, and changed the fate of the combat. It was Antonia, the daughter of the famous triumvir, the revered widow of Drusus.
After the death of Livia, Antonia was the most respected personage of the imperial family in Rome. She still watched, withdrawn but alert, over the destiny of the house now virtually destroyed by death, dissensions, the cruelty of the laws, and the relentless anger of the aristocracy. It was she who scented out the plot, and quickly and courageously she informed Tiberius. The latter, in danger and in Capri, displayed again the energy and sagacity of his best period. The danger was most threatening, especially because Sejanus was the commander of the pretorian guard. Tiberius beguiled him with friendly letters, dangling in front of him the hope that he had conceded to him the tribunician power.—that is, that he had made him his colleague,—while at the same time he secretly took measures to appoint a successor for him. Suddenly Sejanus learned that he was no longer commander of the guard, and that the emperor had accused him before the senate of conspiracy. In an instant, under this blow, the fortunes of Sejanus collapsed. The envy and the latent hatred against the parvenu, the knight who had risen higher than all others, and who had humiliated the senatorial aristocracy with his good fortune, were reawakened, and the senate and public opinion turned fiercely against him. Sejanus, his family, his friends, his accomplices, and those who seemed to be his accomplices, were put to death after summary trials by the fury of the mob; and in Rome blood flowed in torrents.
Antonia might now have enjoyed the satisfaction of having saved through her foresight not only Tiberius, but the entire family, when suddenly one of the surges of that fierce tempest of ambitions and hatreds tore from her side even her own daughter, Livilla, the widow of Drusus, and cast her as a prey into that sea of blind popular frenzy. The reader has perhaps not forgotten that eight years before, when Sejanus was hoping to marry Livilla, he had repudiated his first wife, Apicata. Apicata had not wished to outlive the ruin of her former husband, and she killed herself, but only after having written Tiberius a letter in which she accused Livilla of having poisoned Drusus through connivance with Sejanus, whom she wished to marry. I confess that this accusation seems to me hardly probable, and I do not believe that the denunciation of Apicata is sufficient ground for admitting it. Above all, it is well to inquire what proofs Apicata could have had of this crime, and how she could have procured them even if the crime had been committed. Since the two accomplices would have been obliged to hide their infamous deed from all, there was no one from whom they would have concealed it more carefully than from Apicata. We must further note that it is not probable that a cautious man, as Sejanus was in the year 23, would have thought of committing so serious a crime as that of poisoning the son of his protector. For what reason would he have done so? He did not then think of succeeding Tiberius; by removing Drusus, he would merely have improved the situation of the family of Germanicus, which at that time was already hostile to him and with which he was preparing to struggle. Instead, might not this accusation in extremis be the last vengeance of a repudiated woman against the rival who for a moment had threatened to take the position from which she herself had been driven? Apicata did not belong to the aristocracy, and, unlike the ladies of the senatorial families, she had not therefore been brought up with the idea of having to serve docilely as an instrument for the political career of her own husband. Perhaps her denunciation was the revenge of feminine jealousy, of that passion which the lower orders of Roman society did not extinguish in the hearts of their women as did the aristocracy.
This denunciation, however,—we know this from the pages of ancient writers,—was one of the most terrible griefs of Tiberius's old age. He had loved his son tenderly, and the idea of leaving so horrible a crime unpunished, in case the accusation was true, drove him to desperation. Yet, on the other hand, Livilla, the presumptive criminal, was the daughter of his faithful friend, of that Antonia who had saved him from the treacheries of Sejanus. As for the public, ever ready to believe all the infamies which were reported of the imperial house, it was firmly convinced that Livilla was an abominable poisoner. A great trial was set on foot; many suspects were put to torture, which is evidence that they were arriving at no definite conclusions, and this was probably because they were seeking for the proofs of an imaginary crime. Livilla, however, did not survive the scandal, the accusations, the suspicions of Tiberius, and the distrust of those about her. Because she was the daughter of Drusus and the daughter-in-law of Tiberius, because she belonged to the family which fortune had placed at the head of the immense empire of Rome, she would not be able to persuade any one that she was innocent. The obscure woman, without ancestry, who was accusing her from the grave, would be taken at her word by every one; she would convince posterity and history; against all reason she would prevail over the greatness of Livilla! So Livilla took refuge in her mother's house and starved herself to death, for she was unable to outlive an accusation which it was impossible to refute.
Tiberius's reign continued for six years after this terrible tragedy, but it was only a species of slow death-agony. The year 33 saw still another tragic event—the suicide of Agrippina and her son Drusus. Of the race of Germanicus there remained alive only one son, Caius (the later Emperor Caligula), and three daughters, of whom the eldest, Agrippina, the mother of Nero, had been married a few years before to the descendant of one of the greatest houses of Rome, Cnaeus Domitius Enobarbus. Tiberius still remained as the last relic of a bygone time to represent ideas and aspirations which were henceforth lost causes, amid the ruins and the tombs of his friends. Posterity, following in the footsteps of Tacitus, has held him and his dark nature alone responsible for this ruin. We ought to believe instead that he was a man born to a loftier and more fortunate destiny, but that he had to pay the penalty for the unique eminence to which fortune had exalted him. Like the members of his family who had been driven into exile, who had died before their time, who had been driven to suicide in despair, he, too, was the victim of a tragic situation full of insoluble contradictions; and precisely because he was destined to live, he was perhaps the most unfortunate victim of them all.
 There was in the Roman legal system no public prosecutor and virtually no police. Every Roman citizen was supposed to watch over the laws and see that they were not infringed. On his retirement from office, any governor or magistrate ran the risk of being impeached by some young aspirant to political honors, and not infrequently oratory, an art much cultivated by the Romans, triumphed over righteousness. In the earlier period the ground on which charges were usually brought was malversation; in the time of the empire they were also frequently brought under the above-mentioned law de majestate. It has been said that this common act of accusation, the birthright of the Roman citizen, the greatly esteemed palladium of Roman freedom, became the most convenient instrument of despotism. Since he who could bring a criminal to justice received a fourth of his possessions and estates, and since it brought the accuser into prominence, delation was recklessly indulged in by the unscrupulous, both for the sake of gain and as a means of venting personal spite. The vice lay at the very heart of the Roman system, and was not the invention of Tiberius. He could hardly have done away with it without overthrowing the whole Roman procedure.
THE SISTERS OF CALIGULA AND THE MARRIAGE OF MESSALINA
After the death of Tiberius (37 A.D.), the problem of the succession presented to the senate was not an easy one. In his will, Tiberius had adopted, and thereby designated to the senate as his successors, Caius Caligula, the son of Germanicus, and Tiberius, the son of his own son Drusus. The latter was only seventeen, and too young for such a responsibility. Caligula was twenty-seven, and therefore still very young, although by straining a point he might be emperor; yet he did not enjoy a good reputation. If we except him, there was no other member of the family old enough to govern except Tiberius Claudius Nero, the brother of Germanicus and the only surviving son of Drusus and Antonia. He was generally considered a fool, was the laughing-stock of freedmen and women, and such a gawk and clown that it had been impossible to put him into the magistracy. Indeed, he was not even a senator when Tiberius died.
As they could not consider him, there remained only Caligula, unless they wished to go outside the family of Augustus, which, if not impossible, was at least difficult and dangerous. For the provinces, the German barbarians, and especially the soldiers of the legions, were accustomed to look upon this family as the mainstay of the empire. The legions had become specially attached to the memory and to the race of Drusus and Germanicus, who still lived in the minds of the soldiers as witnesses to their former exploits and virtues. During the long watches of the night, as their names were repeated in speech and story, their shades, idealized by death, returned again to revisit the camps on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube. The veneration and affection which the armies had once felt for the Roman nobility were now centered about the family of Augustus. In this difficulty, therefore, the senate chose the lesser evil, and, annulling a part of the testament of Tiberius, elected Caligula, the son of Germanicus, as their emperor.
The death of Tiberius, however, was destined to show the Romans for the first time that although it was hard to find an emperor, it might even be harder to find an empress. During the long reign of Augustus, Livia had discharged the duties of this difficult position with incomparable success. Tiberius had succeeded Augustus, and after his divorce from Julia had never remarried. There had therefore been a long interregnum in the Roman world of feminine society, during which no one had ever stopped to think whether it would be easy or difficult to find a woman who could with dignity take over the position of Livia. The problem was really presented for the first time with the advent of Caligula; for, at twenty-seven, he could not solve it as simply as Tiberius had done. In the first place, it was to be expected that a man of his age would have a wife; secondly, the Lex de maritandis ordinibus made marriage a necessity for him, as for all the senators; furthermore, the head of the state needed to have a woman at his side, if he wished to discharge all his social duties. The celibacy of Tiberius had undoubtedly contributed to the social isolation which had been fatal both to him and to the state.
Therefore in Caligula's time the Roman public became aware that the problem confronting it was a most difficult one. A most exacting public opinion, hesitating between the ideals of two epochs, wished to see united in the empress the best part, both of the ancient and of the modern customs, and was consequently demanding that the second Livia should possess virtually every quality. It was necessary that she should be of noble birth; that is, a descendant of one of those great Roman families which with every year were becoming less numerous, less prolific, less virtuous, and more fiercely divided among themselves by irreconcilable hatreds. This latter was a most serious difficulty; for by marrying into one of these lines, the emperor ran the risk of antagonizing all those other families which were its enemies. The empress, furthermore, must be the model of all the virtues; fruitful, in order to obey the Lex de maritandis ordinibus; religious, chaste, and virtuous, that she might not violate the Lex de adulteriis; simple and modest, in deference to the Lex sumptuaria. She must be able to rule wisely over the vast household of the emperor, full of his slaves and freedmen, and she must aid her husband in the fulfilment of all those social duties—receptions, dinners, entertainments—which, though serious concerns for every Roman nobleman, were even more serious for the emperor. That she should be stupid or ignorant was of course out of the question. In fact, from this time to the downfall of Nero the difficulties of the imperial family and its authority arise not so much from the emperors as from their wives; so that it may truly be said that it was the women who unwittingly dragged down to its ruin the great Julio-Claudian house.
But if the difficulty was serious, there never was a man so little fitted and so ill prepared to face it as this young man of twenty-seven who had been exalted to the imperial dignity after the death of Tiberius. Four years before his election as emperor, he had married a certain Julia Claudilla, a lady who doubtless belonged to one of the great Roman families, but about whom we have no definite information. We cannot say, therefore, whether or not at the side of a second Augustus she might have become a new Livia. In any case, it is certain that Caligula was not a second Augustus. He was probably not so frenzied a lunatic as ancient writers have pictured him, but his was certainly an extravagant, unbalanced mind, given to excesses, and unhinged by the delirium of greatness, which his coming to the throne had increased the more because it had been conferred upon him at a time when he was too young and before he had been sufficiently prepared. For many years Caligula had never even hoped to succeed Tiberius; he had continually feared that the fate of his mother and his two brothers was likewise waiting for him. Far from having dreamed that he would be raised to the imperial purple, he had merely desired that he might not have to end his days as an exile on some desert island in the Mediterranean. So much good fortune after the long persecutions of his family profoundly disturbed his mental faculties, which had not originally been well balanced, and it fomented in him that delirium of grandeur which violently directed his desires toward distant Egypt, in the customs of which, rather than in those of Rome, he, in the exaltation of power, sought satisfaction for his imperial vanity. From his earliest youth Caligula had shown a great inclination for the products and the men of that far country, then greatly admired and greatly feared by the Romans. For instance, we know that all his servants were Egyptians, and that Helicon, his most faithful and influential freedman, was an Alexandrian. But shortly after his elevation this admiration for the land of the Ptolemies and the Pharaohs broke forth into a furor of Egyptian exoticism, which impelled him to an attempt to bring his own reign into connection with the policies of his great-grandfather Mark Antony. He sought to introduce into Rome the ideas, the customs, the sumptuousness, and the institutions of the Pharaoh-Ptolemaic monarchy, to make of his palace a court similar to that of Alexandria, and of himself a divine king, adored in flesh and blood, as sovereigns were adored on the banks of the Nile.
Caligula was undoubtedly mad, but his madness would have seemed less chaotic and incomprehensible, and a thread of sense would have been discovered even in his excesses and in the ravings of his unsettled mind, if it had been understood that many of his most famous freaks were moved and inspired by this Egyptian idea and tendency. In the madness of Caligula, as in the story of Antony and the tragedy of Tiberius, there is forever recurring, under a new form, the great struggle between Italy and the East, between Rome and Alexandria, which can never be divorced from the history of the last century of the republic and the first century of the empire. Whoever carefully sifts out the separate actions in the disordered conduct of the third Roman emperor will easily rediscover the thread of this idea and the trace of this latent conflict. For instance, we see the new emperor scarcely elected before he introduced the worship of Isis among the official cults of the Roman state and assigned in the calendar a public festival to Isis. In short, he was favoring those Egyptian cults which Tiberius, with his "old-Roman" sympathies, had fiercely combatted. Furthermore, we see Caligula prohibiting the festival in commemoration of the battle of Actium, which had been celebrated every year for more than half a century. At first sight the idea seems absurd; but it must not be considered a caprice; for with this act Caligula was intending to initiate the historical rehabilitation of Mark Antony, the man who had tried to shift the center of Roman politics from Rome to Alexandria. The emperor meant to make plain to Rome that she was no longer to boast of having humiliated Alexandria with arms, since Alexandria would henceforth be taken as a model in all things.
Just as the dynasty of the Ptolemies had been surrounded by a semi-religious veneration, Caligula, inspired as he was by Egyptian and Ptolemaic conceptions, sought to have this same veneration bestowed upon his entire family—that family which under Tiberius had been persecuted and defamed by suits and decimated by suicides through the envy of the aristocracy, which was forever unwilling to forgive its too great prestige. Caligula not only hastened to set out in person to gather up the bones of Agrippina, his mother, and of his brother, in order to bring them to Rome and deposit them piously in the tomb of Augustus,—that was a natural duty of filial piety,—but he also prohibited any one to name among his ancestors the great Agrippa, the builder of the Pantheon, because his very obscure origin seemed a blot upon the semi-divine purity of his race. He had the title of Augusta and all the privileges of the vestal virgins bestowed upon his grandmother Antonia, the daughter of Mark Antony and the faithful friend of Tiberius; he had these same vestal privileges bestowed upon his three sisters, Agrippina, Drusilla, and Livilla; he had assigned to them a privileged position equal to his own at the games in the circus; he even had it decreed that their names should be included in the vows which the magistrates and pontiffs offered every year for the prosperity of the prince and of his people, and that in the prayers for the conservation of his power there should also be included a prayer for their felicity. This was a small revolution from the constitutional point of view; for the Romans, though allowing their women ample freedom to occupy themselves with politics from the retirement of their homes, had never recognized for them any official capacity. Tiberius, faithfully adhering in this also to tradition, had gone as far as to prevent the senate, at the time of Livia's death, from voting public honors to her memory, which, he thought, might have justified the belief that his mother had been, not a matron of the old Roman stamp, but a public personage. Caligula, however, was quite indifferent to tradition, and by his expressed will, as if in reaction against the persecutions and the humiliations which the imperial family had suffered under Tiberius, even the sisters of the emperor acquired a sacred character and a privileged position in the state. For the first time the women of the imperial family acquired the character of official personages.
It cannot be denied that the transition from atrocious prosecutions to divine honors was somewhat sudden, but this is merely a further proof that Caligula was endowed with a violent, impulsive, and irreflective temperament. In any case, there was neither scandal nor protest at that time. Caligula during the first months of his rule was popular, not for his measures in favor of the women of his family, but for reasons of far greater importance. He had inaugurated a regime which promised to be more indulgent, more prodigal, less harsh than that of Tiberius. Extravagance had made rapid strides, especially in the ranks of the aristocracy, during the twenty-two years of Tiberius's rule: and although the latter, especially toward the end of his life, had ceased struggling against this tendency, nevertheless his well-known aversion to sumptuous living, and the example of simplicity which he set before the eyes of all, had always been a cause of preoccupation to the aristocracy—to men as well as women. There was no certainty that the emperor might not again, some day, try to enforce the sumptuary laws. When Caligula therefore began his career, indicating very clearly his sympathies with the modernizing party by his eagerness to do away with the old Roman simplicity, the young aristocracy of both sexes did not conceal their satisfaction. After a long period of old-fashioned traditional policy, enforced by the two preceding emperors, they welcomed with joy the young reformer who set out to introduce in the imperial government the spirit of the new generations. No one was sorry that all the purveyors of voluptuousness,—mimes, singers, actors, dancers of both sexes, cooks, and puppets,—should with noisy joy break into the imperial palace, which had been official, severe, and cold under Tiberius, and bring back pleasure, luxury, and festivals. All hoped that under the rule of this indulgent, youthful emperor, life, especially at Rome, would become more pleasant and gay; and no one therefore felt disposed to protest against the official honors which, contrary to custom, had been bestowed upon the women of the imperial family.
In truth, if he, still harking back to Egyptian ideas and customs, had been content with surrounding his family, especially its women, with a respect which would have protected them against the infamous accusations and iniquitous persecutions to which many had fallen victims, he might have had credit for an action which was good, just, and useful to the state. That strange condition of affairs which had been growing up under Tiberius was both absurd and dangerous to the country: the emperor was honored with extraordinary powers and made the object of a semi-religious veneration; but his family, and especially its women, were, as a sort of retribution, set outside the laws and fiercely assailed in a thousand insidious ways. But the lunatic Caligula was not the man to keep even a wise proposal within reasonable limits. Power, popularity, and praise quickly aroused all that was warped and excessive in his nature, and very soon, as he showed at the end of the year 37, he entertained an idea which must have seemed to the Romans a horrible impiety. His wife died soon after he became emperor. Another marriage seemed obligatory, and he decided that he would marry his sister Drusilla.
Historians have represented this intention as the perverse delirium of an unbridled sensuality. It was certainly the gross act of a madman, but there was perhaps more politics in his madness than perversity; for it was an attempt to introduce into Rome the dynastic marriages between brothers and sisters which had been the constant tradition of the Ptolemies and the Pharaohs of Egypt. This oriental custom certainly seems a horrible aberration to us, who have been educated according to the strict and austere doctrines of Christianity, which, inheriting in these matters the fine flower of Greco-Latin ideas, has purified and rendered them more rigorous. But for centuries in Egypt,—that is, in the most ancient of the Mediterranean civilizations,—this horrible aberration was looked upon as a sovereign privilege which brought the royal dynasty into relationship with the gods. By means of it, this family preserved the semi-divine purity of its blood; and perchance this custom, which had survived up to the fall of the Ptolemies, was only the projection of ideas and customs which in most ancient times had had a much wider diffusion along the Mediterranean world, for traces of it can be found even in Greek mythology. For were not Jupiter and Juno, who constituted the august Olympian couple, at the same time also brother and sister? Gradually restricted through the spreading of Greek civilization, this custom was finally eradicated at the shores of the Mediterranean by Rome after the destruction of the kingdom of the Ptolemies.
The lunatic Caligula now suddenly took it into his head to transplant this custom to Rome—to transplant it with all the religious pomp of the Egyptian monarchy, and thus transform the family of Augustus, which up to the present had been merely the most eminent family of the Roman aristocracy, into a dynasty of gods and demigods, whose members were to be united by marriage among themselves in order not to pollute the celestial purity of their blood. A fraternal and divine pair were to rule at Rome, like another Arsinoe and Ptolemy, whom the Alexandrian throngs had worshiped on the banks of the Nile. The idea had already matured in his mind at the end of the year 37, and among his three sisters he had already chosen Drusilla to be his wife. This is proved by a will made at the time of an illness which he contracted in the autumn of the first year of his rule. In this will he appointed Drusilla heir not only of his goods, but also of his empire, a wild folly from the point of view of Roman ideas, which did not admit women to the government; but it proves that Caligula had already thought and acted like an Egyptian king.
It is easy to understand why the peace and harmony which had been reestablished for a moment in the troubled imperial family by the advent of Caligula should have been of brief duration. His grandmother and his sisters were Romans, educated in Roman ideals, and this exotic madness of his could inspire in them only an irresistible horror. This brought confusion into the imperial family, and after having suffered the persecutions of Sejanus and his party, the unhappy daughters of Germanicus found themselves in the toils of the exacting caprices of their brother. In fact, in 38, Caligula had already broken with his grandmother, whom the year before he had had proclaimed Augusta; and between the years 38 and 39, catastrophes followed one another in the family with frightful rapidity. His sister Drusilla, whom, as Suetonius tells us, he already treated as a lawful wife, died suddenly of some unknown malady while still very young. It is not improbable that her health may have been ruined by the horror of the wild adventure, which was neither human nor Roman, into which her brother sought to drag her by marriage. Caligula suddenly declared her a goddess, to whom all the cities must pay honors. He had a temple built for her, and appointed a body of twenty priests, ten men and ten women, to celebrate her worship; he decreed that her birthday should be a holiday, and he wished the statue of Venus in the Forum to be carved in her likeness.
But in proportion as Caligula became more and more fervid in this adoration of his dead sister, the disagreement between himself and his other two sisters became more embittered. Julia Livilla was exiled in 38; Agrippina, the wife of Domitius Enobarbus, in 39, and about this same time the venerable Antonia died. It was noised about that Caligula had forced her to commit suicide, and that Agrippina and Livilla had taken part in a conspiracy against the life of the emperor. How much truth there may be in these reports it is difficult to say, but the reason for all these catastrophes may be affirmed with certainty. Life in the imperial palace was no longer possible, especially for women, with this madman who was transforming Rome into Alexandria and who wished to marry a sister. Even Tiberius, the son of Drusus and co-heir to the empire with Caligula, was at about this time defeated in some obscure suit and disappeared.
Caligula therefore remained alone at Rome to represent in the imperial palace the family which only ironically can be considered as the most fortunate in Rome. Of three generations, upon whom fate seemed to have showered all the gifts of life, there remained at his side only Claudius, the clownish old man, the plaything of slaves and freedmen, whom no one molested because all could make game of him. A madman and an imbecile,—or at least one who was reputed such by everybody,—this was all that remained of the family of Augustus seventy years after the battle of Actium.
Alone, with no sisters now to elevate to the divine honors of the Roman Olympus, Caligula was reduced to hunting for wives in the families of the aristocracy. But it seems that even there could be found no great abundance of women who had all the necessary qualities to make them the Olympian consorts of so capricious a god. In three years he married and repudiated three—and in a very strange manner, if we are to trust the ancient accounts of Caligula's loves. The first was Livia Orestilla, the wife of Caius Piso. The emperor, who had seen the woman at the marriage celebration, became, we are told, so infatuated with her that he obliged the husband to divorce her; he then married her, and a few days later repudiated her. Caligula is said to have compared himself on this occasion to Romulus who ravished the Sabine woman, and to Augustus who raped Livia. The second was Lollia Paulina, wife of Caius Memmius, proconsul of a distant province. Caligula heard of the prodigious beauty of Lollia's grandmother. The portrayal of her charms made him fall in love with her granddaughter, though absent and distant. He gave orders for her immediate recall to Rome, and as soon as she could be divorced from her husband he married her. This union, like the former one, lasted only a brief time. The third wife was Milonia Caesonia, and to her Caligula was more faithful, though from the accounts of ancient writers she appears to have been much older than he, rather homely, and already a mother of three daughters when he first loved her. It is difficult to determine how much truth there is in these reports: Caligula was, it is true, a raving maniac, and his frenzy became more accentuated when under the sway of love—a passion which deranges somewhat even wise men. It is not strange, therefore, that in regard to women he may have been guilty of even greater excesses than he was capable of in his dealings with men. Yet some of these accounts seem a little incredible even when ascribed to a madman. However that may be, Livia Orestilla, Lollia Paulina, Milonia Caesonia are figures without relief, shades and ghosts of empresses, no one of whom had time enough even to occupy the highest post. In vain the people expected that there would appear in the imperial palace a worthy successor to Livia. Caligula, like all madmen, was by nature solitary, and could not live with other human beings: he was to remain alone, a prey to his ravings, which became even stranger and more violent. He now wished to impose upon the empire the worship of his own person, without considering any opposition or local traditions and superstitions. In doing this he did violence not only to the civic and republican sentiment of Italy, which detested this worship of a living man as an ignoble oriental adulation, but also to the religious feeling of the Hebrews, to whom this cult appeared most horrible and idolatrous.
In this way difficulties, dissatisfaction, and sedition arose in all parts of the empire. The extravagances, the wild expenditures, the riotous pleasures, and the cruelties of Caligula increased the discontent and disgust on every hand. We need not take literally all the accounts of his cruelty and violence which ancient writers have transmitted to us,—even Caligula has been blackened,—but it is certain that his government in the last two years of his reign degenerated into a reckless, extravagant, violent, and cruel tyranny. One day the empire awoke in terror to the fact that the imperial family—that family in which the legions, the provinces, and the barbarians saw the keystone of the state—no longer existed; that in the vast imperial palace, empty of women, empty of children, empty of hope, there wandered a raging madman of thirty-one, who divorced a wife every six months, who foolishly wasted the treasure and the blood of his subjects, and who was concerned with no other thought than that of having himself worshiped like a god in flesh and blood by all the empire. A conspiracy was formed in the palace itself, and Caligula was killed.
The senate was much perplexed when it heard of the death of Caligula. What was to be done? The majority was inclined to restore the former republican government by abolishing the imperial authority, and to give back to the senate the supreme direction of the state, which little by little had passed into the hands of the emperor. But many recognized that this return to the ancient form of government would be neither easy nor without danger. Could the senate, neglected, divided, and disregarded as it was, succeed in governing the immense empire? On the other hand, it was not much easier to find an emperor, granted that an emperor was henceforth necessary. In the family of Augustus there was only Claudius, too foolish and ridiculous for them to think of making him the head of the state. It seems that some eminent senator offered his candidacy, but the senate hesitated in perplexity, on the ground that if the authority of the members of the family of Augustus was already so uncertain, so debatable, and so darkly threatened, what would happen to a new emperor, unknown to the legions and the provinces, and unsupported by the glory of his ancestors? While the senate was debating in such uncertainty, the pretorians discovered Claudius in a corner of the imperial palace, where he had been cowering through fear lest he too be killed. Recognizing in him the brother of Germanicus, the pretorians proclaimed him emperor. An act of will is always more powerful than a thousand scruples or hesitations: the senate yielded to the legions, and recognized Claudius the imbecile as emperor.
But Claudius was not an imbecile, although he appeared such to many. Instead, he was, so to speak, a man half-grown, in whom certain parts of the mind were highly developed, but whose character had remained that of a child, timid, capricious, impulsive, giddy, and incapable of self-mastery. In intellect he was learned, even cultivated; he was fond of studies, of history, literature, and archaeology, and spoke and wrote well. But Augustus had been forced to give up the attempt to have him enter upon a political career because he had been unable to make him acquire even that exterior bearing which confers the necessary dignity upon him who exercises great power, to say nothing of the firmness, precision, and force of will required in governing men. Credulous, timorous, impressionable, and at the same time obstinate, gluttonous, and sensual, this erudite, overgrown boy had become in the imperial palace a kind of plaything for everybody, especially for his slaves, who, knowing his defects and his weaknesses, did with him what they wished.
He did not lack the intellectual qualities necessary for governing well, but of the moral qualities he had none. He was intelligent, and he looked stupid: he was able to consider the great questions of politics, war, and finance with breadth of view, with original and acute intelligence, but he never succeeded in having himself taken seriously by the persons who surrounded him. He dared undertake great projects, like the conquest of Britain, and he lost his head at the wildest fable about conspiracy which one of his intimates told him; he had mind sufficient to govern the empire as well as Augustus and Tiberius had done, but he could not succeed in getting obedience from four or five slaves or from his own wife.
Such a man was destined to turn out a rather odd emperor, at once great and ridiculous. He made important laws, undertook gigantic public works and conquests of great moment; but in his own house he was a weak husband, incapable of exercising any sort of authority over his wife. With these conjugal weaknesses he seriously compromised the imperial authority, while at the same time he was consolidating it and rendering it illustrious with beautiful and wise achievements, especially in the first seven years of his rule, while he lived with Valeria Messalina.
We must admit in his justification that in this matter he had not been particularly fortunate; for fate had given him to wife a lady who, notwithstanding her illustrious ancestors,—she belonged to one of the greatest families of Rome, related to the family of Augustus,—was not exactly suited to be his companion in the imperial dignity. Every one knows that the name of Valeria Messalina has become in history synonymous with all the faults and all the vices of which a woman can be guilty. This, as usual, is the result of envy and malevolence which never offered truce to the family of Augustus as long as any of its members lived. Many of the infamies which are attributed to her are evidently fables, complacently repeated by Tacitus and Suetonius, and easily believed by posterity. But it is certain that if Messalina was not a monster, she was a beautiful woman, capricious, gay, powerful, reckless, avid of luxury and of money, who had never scrupled to abuse the weakness of her husband in any way either by deceiving him or by obliging him to follow her will and her caprice in everything. She was a woman, in short, neither very virtuous nor serious. There are such women at all times and in all social classes, and they are generally considered by the majority not as monsters, but as a pleasing, though dangerous, variety of the feminine sex. Under normal conditions, nevertheless, when the husband exercises a certain energy and sagacity, even the danger which may result from them is relatively slight.
But chance had made of Messalina an empress, and Messalina was not a sufficiently intelligent or serious woman to understand that if she had been able to abuse the weakness of Claudius with impunity while he had been the most obscure member of the imperial family, it was a much more difficult matter to continue to abuse it after he had become the head of the state. It was from this error that all their difficulties arose. Elated by her new position, Messalina more than ever took advantage of her husband's infirmity. She began by starting new dissensions in the imperial family. Claudius had recalled to Rome the two victims of Caligula's Egyptian caprices, Agrippina and Julia Livilla; but if the latter no longer found a brother in Rome to persecute them, they did find their aunt, and they had gained but little by the exchange. Messalina soon took umbrage at the influence which the two sisters acquired over the mind of their weak-willed uncle, and it was not long before Julia Livilla was accused under the Lex de adulteriis, and exiled with Seneca, the famous philosopher, whom they wished rightly or wrongly to pass off as her lover. Agrippina, like her mother, was a virtuous woman, as is proved by the fact that she could not be attacked with such weapons and was enabled to remain in Rome; though she also had to live prudently and beware of her enemy, and much the more as she had only recently become a widow and could therefore not even count upon the protection of a husband. Though Agrippina remained at Rome, she was isolated and reduced to a position of helplessness.