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Written 109 A.C.E.
Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
Table of Contents
In the consulship of Rubellius and Fufius, both of whom had the surname Geminus, died in an advanced old age Julia Augusta. A Claudia by birth and by adoption a Livia and a Julia, she united the noblest blood of Rome. Her first marriage, by which she had children, was with Tiberius Nero, who, an exile during the Perusian war, returned to Rome when peace had been concluded between Sextus Pompeius and the triumvirs. After this Caesar, enamoured of her beauty, took her away from her husband, whether against her wish is uncertain. So impatient was he that he brought her to his house actually pregnant, not allowing time for her confinement. She had no subsequent issue, but allied as she was through the marriage of Agrippina and Germanicus to the blood of Augustus, her great-grandchildren were also his. In the purity of her home life she was of the ancient type, but was more gracious than was thought fitting in ladies of former days. An imperious mother and an amiable wife, she was a match for the diplomacy of her husband and the dissimulation of her son. Her funeral was simple, and her will long remained unexecuted. Her panegyric was pronounced from the Rostra by her great-grandson, Caius Caesar, who afterwards succeeded to power.
Tiberius however, making no change in his voluptuous life, excused himself by letter for his absence from his last duty to his mother on the ground of the pressure of business. He even abridged, out of moderation, as it seemed, the honours which the Senate had voted on a lavish scale to her memory, allowing only a very few, and adding that no religious worship was to be decreed, this having been her own wish. In a part of the same letter he sneered at female friendships, with an indirect censure on the consul Fufius, who had risen to distinction through Augusta's partiality. Fufius was indeed a man well fitted to win the affection of a woman; he was witty too, and accustomed to ridicule Tiberius with those bitter jests which the powerful remember so long.
This at all events was the beginning of an unmitigated and grinding despotism. As long indeed as Augusta lived, there yet remained a refuge, for with Tiberius obedience to his mother was the habit of a life, and Sejanus did not dare to set himself above a parent's authority. Now, so to say, they threw off the reins and let loose their fury. A letter was sent, directed against Agrippina and Nero, which was popularly believed to have been long before forwarded and to have been kept back by Augusta, as it was publicly read soon after her death. It contained expressions of studied harshness, yet it was not armed rebellion or a longing for revolution, but unnatural passions and profligacy which the emperor imputed to his grandson. Against his daughter-in-law he did not dare to invent this much; he merely censured her insolent tongue and defiant spirit, amid the panic-stricken silence of the Senate, till a few who had no hope from merit (and public calamities are ever used by individuals for interested purposes) demanded that the question should be debated. The most eager was Cotta Messalinus, who made a savage speech. Still, the other principal senators, and especially the magistrates, were perplexed, for Tiberius, notwithstanding his furious invective, had left everything else in doubt.
There was in the Senate one Junius Rusticus, who having been appointed by the emperor to register its debates was therefore supposed to have an insight into his secret purposes. This man, whether through some fatal impulse (he had indeed never before given any evidence of courage) or a misdirected acuteness which made him tremble at the uncertain future, while he forgot impending perils, attached himself to the waverers, and warned the consuls not to enter on the debate. He argued that the highest issues turned on trivial causes, and that the fall of the house of Germanicus might one day move the old man's remorse. At the same moment the people, bearing the images of Agrippina and Nero, thronged round the Senate-house, and, with words of blessing on the emperor, kept shouting that the letter was a forgery and that it was not by the prince's will that ruin was being plotted against his house. And so that day passed without any dreadful result.
Fictitious speeches too against Sejanus were published under the names of ex-consuls, for several persons indulged, all the more recklessly because anonymously, the caprice of their imaginations. Consequently the wrath of Sejanus was the more furious, and he had ground for alleging that the Senate disregarded the emperor's trouble; that the people were in revolt; that speeches in a new style and new resolutions were being heard and read. What remained but to take the sword and chose for their generals and emperors those whose images they had followed as standards.
Upon this the emperor, after repeating his invectives against his grandson and his daughter-in-law and reprimanding the populace in an edict complained to the Senate that by the trick of one senator the imperial dignity had been publicly flouted, and he insisted that, after all, the whole matter should be left to his exclusive decision. Without further deliberation, they proceeded, not indeed to pronounce the final sentence (for this was forbidden), but to declare that they were prepared for vengeance, and were restrained only by the strong hand of the sovereign.
[The remainder of the fifth book and the beginning of the sixth, recounting Sejanus' marriage and fall and covering a space of nearly three years, are lost. Newer editions of Tacitus mark the division between the fifth and sixth books at this point rather than at the end of section 11; but references are regularly made to the older numbering, and so it has been retained here. The beginning of section 6 is obviously fragmentary.]
.... forty-four speeches were delivered on this subject, a few of which were prompted by fear, most by the habit of flattery...
"There is now a change of fortune, and even he who chose Sejanus to be his colleague and his son-in-law excuses his error. As for the rest, the man whom they encouraged by shameful baseness, they now wickedly revile. Which is the most pitiable, to be accused for friendship's sake or to have to accuse a friend, I cannot decide. I will not put any man's cruelty or compassion to the test, but, while I am free and have a clear conscience, I will anticipate peril. I implore you to cherish my memory with joy rather than with sorrow, numbering me too with those who by noble death have fled from the miseries of our country."
Then detaining those of his friends who were minded to stay with him and converse, or, if otherwise, dismissing them, he thus spent part of the day, and with a numerous circle yet round him, all gazing on his fearless face, and imagining that there was still time to elapse before the last scene, he fell on a sword which he had concealed in his robe. The emperor did not pursue him after his death with either accusation or reproach, although he had heaped a number of foul charges on Blaesus.
Next were discussed the cases of Publius Vitellius and Pomponius Secundus. The first was charged by his accusers with having offered the keys of the treasury, of which he was prefect, and the military chest in aid of a revolution. Against the latter, Considius, an ex-praetor, alleged intimacy with Aelius Gallus, who, after the punishment of Sejanus, had fled to the gardens of Pomponius, as his safest refuge. They had no resource in their peril but in the courageous firmness of their brothers who became their sureties. Soon, after several adjournments, Vitellius, weary alike of hope and fear, asked for a penknife, avowedly, for his literary pursuits, and inflicted a slight wound in his veins, and died at last of a broken heart. Pomponius, a man of refined manners and brilliant genius, bore his adverse fortune with resignation, and outlived Tiberius.
It was next decided to punish the remaining children of Sejanus, though the fury of the populace was subsiding, and people generally had been appeased by the previous executions. Accordingly they were carried off to prison, the boy, aware of his impending doom, and the little girl, who was so unconscious that she continually asked what was her offence, and whither she was being dragged, saying that she would do so no more, and a childish chastisement was enough for her correction. Historians of the time tell us that, as there was no precedent for the capital punishment of a virgin, she was violated by the executioner, with the rope on her neck. Then they were strangled and their bodies, mere children as they were, were flung down the Gemoniae.
About the same time Asia and Achaia were alarmed by a prevalent but short-lived rumour that Drusus, the son of Germanicus, had been seen in the Cyclades and subsequently on the mainland. There was indeed a young man of much the same age, whom some of the emperor's freedmen pretended to recognise, and to whom they attached themselves with a treacherous intent. The renown of the name attracted the ignorant, and the Greek mind eagerly fastens on what is new and marvellous. The story indeed, which they no sooner invented than believed, was that Drusus had escaped from custody, and was on his way to the armies of his father, with the design of invading Egypt or Syria. And he was now drawing to himself a multitude of young men and much popular enthusiasm, enjoying the present and cherishing idle hopes of the future, when Poppaeus Sabinus heard of the affair. At the time he was chiefly occupied with Macedonia, but he also had the charge of Achaia. So, to forestall the danger, let the story be true or false, he hurried by the bays of Torone and Thermae, then passed on to Euboea, an island of the Aegaean, to Piraeus, on the coast of Attica, thence to the shores of Corinth and the narrow Isthmus, and having arrived by the other sea at Nicopolis, a Roman colony, he there at last ascertained that the man, when skilfully questioned, had said that he was the son of Marcus Silanus, and that, after the dispersion of a number of his followers' he had embarked on a vessel, intending, it seemed, to go to Italy. Sabinus sent this account to Tiberius, and of the origin and issue of the affair nothing more is known to me.
At the close of the year a long growing feud between the consuls broke out. Trio, a reckless man in incurring enmities and a practised lawyer, had indirectly censured Regulus as having been half-hearted in crushing the satellites of Sejanus. Regulus, who, unless he was provoked, loved quietness, not only repulsed his colleague's attack, but was for dragging him to trial as a guilty accomplice in the conspiracy. And though many of the senators implored them to compose a quarrel likely to end fatally, they continued their enmity and their mutual menaces till they retired from office.