Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK V. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16)
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BOOK V. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 2 - Annals (Books 4-6, 11-16) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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THE death and character of the Empress Livia. Thence fresh power to Sejanus, and tyranny of the Government. Agrippina and her son Nero openly accused to the Senate by a letter from the Emperor. The ardent zeal of the people for them. This incenses Sejanus, who thence alarms Tiberius. Part of a Speech of one condemned, with his manner of dying. More accusations. A counterfeit Drusus in the Cyclades. The diligence and address of Poppæus Sabinus upon that occasion. Heats between the two Consuls.
IN the Consulship of Rubellius and Fusius, each sirnamed Geminus, died Julia Augusta, in the extremity of age. She was descended from the Claudian house, adopted through her father into the Livian family, into the Julian by Augustus; and both by adoption and descent, signally noble. Her first marriage was with Tiberius Nero, and by him she had children. Her husband, after the surrender of Perusia, in the Civil War, became a fugitive; but, upon peace made between Sextus Pompeius and the Triumvirate, returned to Rome. Afterwards, Octavius Cæsar, smitten with her beauty, snatched her from her husband, whether with or against her own inclinations, is uncertain, but with such precipitation, that, without staying for her delivery, he married her yet big with child by Tiberius. Henceforward she had no issue; but, by the marriage of Germanicus and Agrippina, her blood came to be mixed with that of Augustus in their great grandchildren. In her domestic deportment she conformed to the venerable model of antiquity, but with more complaisance than was allowed by the Ladies of old; an easy cousteous wife, an ambitious mother, well comporting with the nice arts of her husband, and the dissimulation of her son. Her funeral was moderate, and her last will lay long unfulfilled. Her encomium was pronounced in public by Caligula, her grandson, afterwards Emperor.
Tiberius by a Letter excused himself to the Senate for not having paid his last offices to his Mother; and, though he rioted in private luxury without abatement, pleaded “the multitude of public affairs.” He likewise abridged the honours decreed to her memory, and, of a large number, admitted but very few. For this restriction he pretended modesty, and added, “that no religious worship should be appointed to her, for that the contrary was her own choice.” Nay, in a part of the same Letter, he censured feminine friendships, obliquely upbraiding the Consul Fusius, a man highly distinguished by the favour of Augusta, and dexterous to engage and cajole the affections of women, a gay talker, one accustomed to play upon Tiberius with biting sarcasms, the impressions of which never die in the hearts of Princes.
From this moment, the domination waxed completely outrageous and devouring; for while she lived, some refuge still remained, as the observance of Tiberius towards his Mother was ever inviolate; nor durst Sejanus arrogate precedence of the authority of a parent; but now, as let loose from all restraints, they broke out with unbridled fury. So that Letters were dispatched avowedly against Agrippina and Nero; and as they were read in the Senate soon after the death of Augusta, the people believed them to have been sent before, and by her suppressed. The expressions were elaborately bitter; and yet by them no hostile purpose of taking arms, no endeavour to change the State, was objected to the youth, but only “the love of boys, and other impure pleasures.” Against Agrippina he durst not even feign so much, and therefore arraigned “her haughty looks, her impetuous and stubborn spirit.” The Senate were struck with deep silence and affright; but as particular men will always be drawing personal favour from public miseries, there were some who, having no hopes founded upon uprightness, demanded that “they should proceed upon the Letters.” Amongst these the foremost in zeal was Cotta Messalinus, with a terrible motion; but, the other leading men, and chiefly the Magistrates, were embarassed by fear; for Tiberius, though he had sent them a flaming invective, left all the rest a riddle.
In the Senate was one Junius Rusticus, appointed by the Emperor to keep a Journal of their proceedings, and therefore thought well acquainted with his purposes. This man, by some fatal impulse (for he had never before shewn any instance of magnanimity) or blinded by deceitful policy, while forgetful of present and impending dangers, he dreaded future possibilities, joined the party that hesitated, and even warned the Consuls, “not to begin the debate:” he argued, “that in a short moment the highest affairs might take a new turn, and an interval ought to be allowed to the old man to change his passion into remorse.” At the same time, the people, carrying with them the Images of Agrippina and Nero, gathered about the Senate, and proclaiming their good wishes for the prosperity of the Emperor, cried earnestly, “that the Letters were counterfeit, and against the consent of the Prince the doom of his family was pursued.” So that nothing tragical was that day transacted. There were also dispersed amongst them several speeches, said to have been uttered in Senate by the Consulars, as their motions and advices against Sejanus; but all framed, and with the more petulance as the several authors exercised their satirical wit in the dark. Hence Sejanus boiled with greater rage, and hence had a handle for branding the Senate, “that by them the anguish and resentments of the Prince were despised, the people were revolted; popular and disaffected harangues were publicly read and listened to; new and arbitrary acts of Senate were passed and published. What more remained, but to arm the populace, and place at their head, as leaders and Imperial Commanders, those whose Images they had already chosen for standards?”
Tiberius having therefore repeated his reproaches against his grand-son and daughter-in-law, having chastised the people by an edict, and complained to the Senate, “that by the fraud of a single Senator the Imperial dignity should be baffled and insulted, required that the whole affair should be left to himself, intire and untouched.” The Senate hesitated no longer, but instantly proceeded, not now in truth to decree penalties, and capital vengeance; for that was forbid them; but to testify “how ready they were to inflict just punishments, and that they were only interrupted by the power and pleasure of the Prince.”*******
[Here begins a lamentable chasm in this Annal for almost three years; and by it we have lost the detail of the most remarkable incidents in this reign, the exile of Agrippina into the isle of Pandataria; of Nero into that of Pontia; and the murder of both there, by the orders of Tiberius; the conspiracy and execution of Sejanus, with that of all his friends and dependents; the further wickedness of Livia, and her death.]
*** Upon this subject four and forty speeches were made, some few upright, but cramped by fear; many suited to the servile genius of the time ******* “I judged that either upon myself it would bring infamy, or upon Sejanus hatred *** his fortune has now suffered a mighty turn; and he who even chose him for his son-in-law, chose him for his collegue, forgives himself. For others, as they flattered his living pride with the vileness and prostitution of slaves, they now pursue him dead, with the fury of base enemies *** Which is the more wretched fate, I can hardly decide, that of accusing a friend, or of being accused for shewing him friendship *** I shall risque no man’s cruelty, I shall court no man’s mercy, but, free as I am, and approved to my own conscience, will master danger by preventing it. As to all you present; I adjure you that you do not preserve my memory in sorrow, but rejoice over it, and add me too to the number of those who by a noble end have escaped the sad view of public miseries.”
He then spent part of the day in conversation with those that came to see him, received one, took leave of another, talked to all indifferently, as they stood about him, with perfect calmness and presence of spirit. A throng of company yet remained, and, while they all beheld his countenance still easy and void of perturbation, and thence believed that he meant to live some longer space, he fell upon a sword which under his robe he had concealed. Nor did Tiberius, after his death, persecute his memory with any reproach, or blacken him with any crime; whereas he had loaded Blæsus with many and hideous imputations.
Next were tried Publius Vitellius, and Pomponius Secundus. The former was charged by the informers, “that as he presided over the exchequer, he had offered the public treasure, and the whole military chest, towards compassing a revolution.” To the other, his accuser Considius, lately Prætor, objected “the friendship of Ælius Gallus, who, after the execution of Sejanus, had fled to the gardens of Pomponius, as to a most faithful shelter.” Against the impending peril there remained to neither of the accused any aid but from the magnanimity of their brothers, who frankly became their sureties. However, in some time, Vitellius, after many delays, alike distracted with the slipperiness of hope, and the agonies of fear, called for a pen-knife, under pretence of writing, and with it pricked his veins, but timorously and without effect; so that at last he died broken-hearted. Pomponius, a man of great elegance of manners, and noble wit, bore with equanimity his adverse fortune, and outlived Tiberius.
Now, though the rage of the populace was expiring, and though most men were mollified by former executions, it was determined to condemn the other children of Sejanus. They were therefore carried both to prison, the boy sensible of his impending doom, but the girl so ignorant, that she frequently asked, “for what offence? and whither did they drag her? she would do so no more, and they might take the rod and whip her.” The Writers of that time relate, “that as it was a thing unheard, for a virgin to suffer capital punishment, she was deflowered by the executioner just before he tied the rope; and that being both strangled, the tender bodies of these children were cast into the place where the carcasses of malefactors are exposed, before they are flung into the Tiber.”******
About the same time Greece and Asia were dismayed, by a rumour rather vehement than lasting, “that Drusus the son of Germanicus had been seen in the Cyclades, and anon upon the Continent.” It was indeed a-youth near of the same age, accompanied by some of the Emperor’s freedmen, who, while they owned him for Drusus, meant to ensnare him. His followers were multiplied by the splendor of the name, a lure which excited such as were ignorant about him; as the Greeks are ever passionate for all things new and wonderful.
They therefore imagined, and believing their own imaginations, they at the same time published, “that he had escaped from custody, and was proceeding to the armies of his father, with them to subdue Syria or Ægypt.” Already he was strengthened by the confluence of the young men, already courted with public honours, and elated in himself with the present success, and fostering airy hopes, when the story reached Poppæus Sabinus. He was at that juncture engaged in Macedon, though likewise Governor of Greece. To obviate therefore the consequences of the rumour, true or false, he hastily passed the bay of Toronis, and that of Thermes, next Eubœa, an island of the Ægean Sea, and Piræum the port of Athens, then the coast of Corinth, and the Streights of the Isthmus; and, by another sea, he entered Nicopolis a Roman colony. There at last he learnt, that this counterfeit Drusus, being artfully questioned, had declared himself the son of Marcus Silanus; and that many of his followers having fallen off, he had embarked, as if he meant to sail to Italy. Sabinus sent this account to Tiberius, and further than this we have found nothing of the origin or issue of that affair.
Towards the conclusion of the year, the animosity of the Consuls, which had been long heightening, broke out into a flame; for Trio, ever forward to create himself enimies, and an exercised pleader, had obliquely censured Regulus, “as slothful in crushing the instruments of Sejanus.” Regulus, a man moderate and inoffensive, unless provoked, not only repulsed the charge of his collegue, but arraigned him as confederate with that traitor, and even summoned him to his trial. Many Senators interposed, and besought them, that each would drop his hate, tending to the overthrow of both; but they persisted threatning and incensed to the expiration of their Magistracy.