Remarks on Tiberius

At the death of Augustus, there had elapsed so long a period from the overthrow of the republic by Julius Caesar, that few were now living who had been born under the ancient constitution of the Romans; and the mild and prosperous administration of Augustus, during forty-four years, had by this time reconciled the minds of the people to a despotic government. Tiberius, the adopted son of the former sovereign, was of mature age; and though he had hitherto lived, for the most part, abstracted from any concern with public affairs, yet, having been brought up in the family of Augustus, he was acquainted with his method of government, which, there was reason to expect, he would render the model of his own. Livia, too, his mother, and the relict of the late emperor, was still living, a woman venerable by years, who had long been familiar with the councils of Augustus, and from her high rank, as well as uncommon affability, possessed an extensive influence amongst all classes of the people.

Such were the circumstances in favour of Tiberius's succession at the demise of Augustus; but there were others of a tendency disadvantageous to his views. His temper was haughty and reserved: Augustus had often apologised for the ungraciousness of his manners. He was disobedient to his mother; and though he had not openly discovered any propensity to vice, he enjoyed none of those qualities which usually conciliate popularity. To these considerations it is to be added, that Postumus Agrippa, the grandson of Augustus by Julia, was living; and if consanguinity was to be the rule of succession, his right was indisputably preferable to that of an adopted son. Augustus had sent this youth into exile a few years before; but, towards the close of his life, had expressed a design of recalling him, with the view, as was supposed, of appointing him his successor. The father of young Agrippa had been greatly beloved by the Romans; and the fate of his mother, Julia, though she was notorious for her profligacy, had ever been regarded by them with peculiar sympathy and tenderness. Many, therefore, attached to the son the partiality entertained for his parents; which was increased not only by a strong suspicion, but a general surmise, that his elder brothers, Caius and Lucius, had been violently taken off, to make way for the succession of Tiberius. That an obstruction was apprehended to Tiberius's succession from this quarter, is put beyond all doubt, when we find that the death of Augustus was industriously kept secret, until young Agrippa should be removed; who, it is generally agreed, was dispatched by an order from Livia and Tiberius conjointly, or at least from the former. Though, by this act, there reilained no rival to Tiberius, yet the consciousness of his own want of pretensions to the Roman throne, seems to have still rendered him distrustful of the succession; and that he should have quietly obtained it, without the voice of the people, the real inclination of the senate, or the support of the army, can be imputed only to the influence of his mother, and his own dissimulation. Ardently solicitous to attain the object, yet affecting a total indifference; artfully prompting the senate to give him the charge of the government, at the time that he intimated an invincible reluctance to accept it; his absolutely declining it in perpetuity, but fixing no time for an abdication; his deceitful insinuation of bodily infirmities, with hints likewise of approaching old age, that he might allay in the senate all apprehensions of any great duration of nis power, and repress in his adopted son, Germanicus, the emotions of ambition to displace him; form altogether a scene of the most insidious policy, inconsistency, and dissimulation.

In this period died, in the eighty-sixth year of her age, Livia Drusilla, mother of the emperor, and the relict of Augustus, whom she survived fifteen years. She was the daughter of I Drusus Calidianus and married Tiberius Claudius Nero, by whom she had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus. The conduct of this lady seems to justify the remark of Caligula, that " she was an Ulysses in a woman's dress." Octavius first saw her as she fled from the danger which threatened her husband, who had espoused the cause of Antony; and though she was then pregnant, he resolved to marry her; whether with her own inclination or not, is left by Tacitus undetermined. To pave the way for this union, he divorced his wife Scribonia, and with the approbation of the Augurs, which he could have no difficulty in obtaining, celebrated his nuptials with Livia. There ensued from this marriage no issue, though much desired by both parties; but Livia retained, without interruption, an unbounded ascendancy over the emperor, whose confidence she abused, while the uxorious husband little suspected that he was cherishing in his bosom a viper who was to prove the destruction of his house. She appears to have entertained a predominant ambition of giving an heir to the Roman empire; and since it could not be done by any fruit of her marriage with Augustus, she resolved on accomplishing that end in the person of Tiberius, the eldest son by her former husband. The plan which she devised for this purpose, was to exterminate all the male offspring of Augustus by his daughter Julia, who was married to Agrippa; a stratagem which, when executed,.would procure for Tiberius, through the means of adoption, the eventual succession to the empire. The cool yet sanguinary policy, and the patient perseverance of resolution, with which she prosecuted her design, have seldom been equalled. While the sons of Julia were yet young, and while there was still a possibility that she herself might have issue by Augustus, she suspended her project, in the hope, perhaps, that accident or disease might operate in its favour; but when the natural term of her constitution had put a period to her hopes of progeny, and when the grandsons of the emperor were risen to the years of manhood, and had been adopted by him, she began to carry into execution what she long had meditated. The first object devoted to destruction was C. Caesar Agrippa, the eldest of Augustus's grandsons. This promising youth was sent to Armenia, upon an expedition against the Persians; and Lollius, who had been his governor, either accompanied him thither from Rome, or met him in the East, where he had obtained some appointment. From the hand of this traitor, perhaps under the pretext of exercising the authority of a preceptor, but in reality instigated by Livia, the young prince received a fatal blow, of which he died some time after.

The manner of Caius's death seems to have been carefully kept from the knowledge of Augustus, who promoted Lollius to the consulship, and made him governor of a province; but, by his rapacity in this station, he afterwards incurred the emperor's displeasure. The true character of this person had escaped the keen discernment of Horace, as well as the sagacity of the emperor; for in two epistles addressed to Lollius, he mentions him as great and accomplished in the superlative degree; maxime Lolli, liberrime Lolli; so imposing had been the manners and address of this deceitfnl courtier.

Lucius, the second son of Julia, was banished into Campania, for using, as it is said, seditious language against his grandfather. In the seventh year of his exile, Augustus proposed to recall him; but Livia and Tiberius, dreading the consequences of his being restored to the emperor's favour, put in practice the expedient of having him immediately assassinated. Postumus Agrippa, the third son, incurred the displeasure of his grandfather in the same way as Lucius, and was confined at Surrentum, where he remained a prisoner until he was put to death by the order either of Livia alone, or in conjunction with Tiberius, as was before observed.

Such was the catastrophe, through the means of Livia, of all the grandsons of Augustus; and reason justifies the inference, that she who scrupled not to lay violent hands upon those young men, had formerly practised every artifice that could operate towards rendering them obnoxious to the emperor. We may even ascribe to her dark intrigues the dissolute conduct of Julia: for the woman who could secretly act as procuress to her own husband, would feel little restraint upon her mind against corrupting his daughter, when such an effect might contribute to answer the purpose which she had in view. But in the ingratitude of Tiberius, however undutiful and reprehensible in a son towards a parent, she at last experienced a just retribution for the crimes in which she had trained him to procure the succession to the empire. To the disgrace of her sex, she introduced amongst the Romans the horrible practice of domestic murder, little known before the times when the thirst or intoxication of unlimited power had vitiated the social affections; and she transmitted to succeeding ages a pernicious example, by which immoderate ambition might be gratified, at the expense of every moral obligation, as well as of humanity.

One of the first victims in the sanguinary reign of the present emperor, was Germanicus, the son of Drusus, Tiberius's own brother, and who had been adopted by his uncle himself. Under any sovereign, of a temper different from that of Tiberius, this amiable and meritorious prince would have been held in the highest esteem. At the death of his grandfather Augustus, he was employed in a war in Germany, where he greatly distinguished himself by his military achievements; and as soon as intelligence of that event arrived, the soldiers, by whom he was extremely beloved, unanimously saluted him emperor. Refusing, however, to accept this mark of their partiality, he persevered in allegiance to the government of his uncle, and prosecuted the war with success. Upon the conclusion of this expedition, he was sent, with the title of emperor in the East, to repress the seditions of the Armenians, in which he was equally successful. But the fame which he acquired, served only to render him an object of jealousy to Tiberius, by whose order he was secretly poisoned at Daphne, near Antioch, in the thirtyfourth year of his age. The news of Germanicus's death was received at Rome with universal lamentation; and all ranks of the people entertained an opinion, that, had he survived Tiberius, he would have restored the freedom of the republic. The love and grditude of the Romans decreed many honours to his memory. It was ordered, that his name should be sung in a solemn procession of the Salii; that crowns of oak, in allusion to his victories, should be placed upon curule chairs in the hall pertaining to the priests of Augustus; and that an effigy of him in ivory should be drawn upon a chariot, preceding the ceremonies of the Circensian games. Triumphal arches were erected, one at Rome, another on the banks of the Rhine, and a third upon Mount Amanus in Syria, with inscriptions of his achievements, and that he died for his services to the republic.1

His obsequies were celebrated, not with the display of images and funeral pomp, but with the recital of his praises and the virtues which rendered him illustrious. From a resemblance in his personal accomplishments, his age, the manner of his death, and the vicinity of Daphne to Babylon, many compared his fate to that of Alexander the Great. He was celebrated for humanity and benevolence, as well as military talents, and amidst the toils of war, found leisure to cultivate the arts of literary genius. He composed two comedies in Greek, some epigrams, and a translation of Aratus into Latin verse. He married Agrippina, the daughter of M. Agrippa, by whom he had nine children. This lady, who had accompanied her husband into the east, carried his ashes to Italy, and accused his murderer, Piso; who, unable to bear up against the public odium incurred by that transaction, laid violent hands upon himself. Agrippina was now nearly in the same predicament with regard to Tiberius, that Ovid had formerly been in respect of Augustus. He was sensible, that when she accused Piso, she was not ignorant of the person by whom the perpetrator of the murder had been instigated; and her presence, therefore, seeming continually to reproach him with his guilt, he resolved to rid himself of a person become so obnoxious to his sight, and banished her to the island of Pandataria, where she died some time afterwards with famine.

But it was not sufficient to gratify this sanguinary tyrant, that he had, without any cause, cut off both Germanicus and his wife Agrippina: the distinguished merits and popularity of that prince were yet to be revenged upon his children; and accordingly he set himself to invent a pretext for their destruction. After endeavouring in vain, by various artifices, to provoke the resentment of Nero and Drusus against him, he had recourse to false accusation, and not only charged them with seditious designs, to which their tender years were ill adapted, but with vices of a nature the most scandalous. By a sentence of the senate, which manifested the extreme servility of that assembly, he procured them both to be declared open enemies to their country. Nero he banished to the island'of Pontia, where, like his unfortunate mother, he miserably perished by famine; and Drusus was doomed to the same fate, in the lower part of the Palatium, after suffering for nine days the violence of hunger, and having, as is related, devoured part of his bed. The remaining son, Caius, on account of his vicious disposition, he resolved to appoint his successor on the throne, that, after his own death, a comparison might be made in favour of his own memory, when the Romans should be governed by a sovereign yet more vicious and more tyrannical, if possible, than himself.

Sejanus, the minister in the present reign, imitated with success, for some time, the hypocrisy of his master; and, had his ambitious temper, impatient of attaining its object, allowed him to wear the mask for a longer period, he might have gained the imperial diadem; in the pursuit of which he was overtaken by that fate which he merited still more by his cruelties than his perfidy to Tiberms. This man was a native of Volsinium in Tuscany, and the son of a Roman knight. He had first insinuated himself into the favour of Caius Caesar, the grandson of Augustus, after whose death he courted the friendship of Tiberius, and obtained m a short time his entire confidence, which he improved to the best advantage. The object which he next pursued, was to gain the attachment of the senate, and the officers of the army; besides whom, with a new kind of policy, he endeavoured to secure in his interest every lady of distinguished connections, by giving secretly to each of them a promise of marriage, as soon as he should arrive at the sovereignty. The chief obstacles in his way were the sons and grandsons of Tiberius; and these he soon sacrificed to his ambition, under various pretences. Drusus, the eldest of this progeny, having in a fit of passion struck the favourite, was destined by him to destruction. For this purpose, he had the presumption to seduce Livia, the wife of Drusus, to whom she had borne several children; and she consented to marry her adulterer upon the death of her husband, who was soon after poisoned, through the means of an eunuch named Lygdus, by order of her and Sejanus. Drusus was the son of Tiberius by Vipsania, one of Agrippa's daughters. He displayed great intrepidity during the war m the provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia, but appears to have been dissolute in his morals. Horace is said to have written the Ode in praise of Drusus at the desire of Augustus; and while the poet celebrates the military courage of the prince, he insinuates indirectly a salutary admonition to the cultivation of the civil virtues:

Doctrina sed vim promovet insitam,
Rectique cultus pectora roborant:
Utcumque defecere mores,
Dedecorant bene nata culpae.

Yet sage instructions to refine the soul
And raise the genius, wondrous aid impart,
Conveying inward, as they purely roll,
Strength to the mind and vigour to the heart:
When mortals fail, the stains of vice disgrace
The fairest honours of the noblest race.


Upon the death of Drusus, Sejanus openly avowed a desire of marrying the widowed princess; but Tiberius opposing this measure, and at the same time recommending Germanicus to the senate as his successor in the empire, the mind of Sejanus was more than ever inflamed by the united, and now furious, passions of love and ambition. He therefore urged his demand with increased importunity; but the emperor still refusing his consent, and things being not yet ripe for an immediate revolt, Sejanus thought nothing so favourable for the prosecution of his designs as the absence of Tiberius from the capital. With this view, under the pretence of relieving his master from the cares of government, he persuaded him to retire to a distance from Rome. The emperor, indolent and luxurious, approved of the proposal, and retired into Campania, leaving to his ambitious minister the whole direction of the empire. Had Sejanus now been governed by common prudence and moderation, he might have attained to the accomplishment of all his wishes; but a natural impetuosity of temper, and the intoxication of power, precipitated him into measures which soon effected his destruction. As if entirely emancipated from the control of a master, he publicly declared himself sovereign of the Roman empire, and that Tiberius, who had by this time retired to Capri, was only the dependent prince of that tributary island. He even went so far in degrading the emperor, as to have him introduced in a ridiculous light upon the stage. Advice of Sejanus's proceedings was soon carried to the emperor at Capri; his indignation was immediately excited; and with a confidence founded upon an authority exercised for several years, he sent orders for accusing Sejanus before the senate. This mandate no sooner arrived, than the audacious minister was deserted by his adherents; he was in a short time after seized without resistance, and strangled in prison the same day.

Human nature recoils with horror at the cruelties of this execrable tyrant, who, having first imbrued his hands in the blood of his own relations, proceeded to exercise them upon the public with indiscriminate fury. Neither age nor sex afforded any exemption from his insatiable thirst for blood. Innocent children were condemned to death, and butchered in the presence of their parents; virgins, without any imputed guilt, were sacrificed to a similar destiny; but there being an ancient custom of not strangling females in that situation, they were first deflowered by the executioner, and afterwards strangled, as if an atrocious addition to cruelty could sanction the exercise of it. Fathers were constrained by violence to witness the death of their own children; and even the tears of a mother, at the execution of her child, were punished as a capital offence. Some extraordinary calamities, occasioned by accident, added to the horrors of the reign. A great number of houses on Mount Ccelius were destroyed by fire; and by the fall of a temporary building at Fidenae, erected for the purpose of exhibiting public shows, about twenty thousand persons were either greatly hurt, or crushed to death in the ruins.

By another fire which afterwards broke out, a part of the Circus was destroyed, with the numerous buildings on Mgunt Aventine. The only act of munificence displayed by Tiberius during his reign, was upon the occasion of those fires, when, to qualify the severity of his government, he indemnified the most considerable sufferers for the loss they had sustained.

Through the whole of his life, Tiberius seems to have conducted himself with a uniform repugnance to nature. Affable on a few occasions, but in general averse to society, he indulged, from his earliest years, a moroseness of disposition, which counterfeited the appearance of austere virtue; and in the decline of life, wRien it is common to reform from juvenile indiscretions, he launched forth into excesses, of a kind the most.unnatural and most detestable. Considering the vicious passions which had ever brooded in his heart, it may seem surprising that he restrained himself within the bounds of decency during so many years after his accession; but though utterly destitute of reverence or affection for his mother, he still felt, during her life, a filial awe upon his mind: and after her death, ie was actuated by a slavish fear of Sejanus, until at last political necessity absolved him likewise from this restraint. These checks being both removed, he rioted without any control, either from sentiment or authority.

Pliny relates, that the art of making glass malleable was actually discovered under the reign of Tiberius, and that the shop and tools of the artist were destroyed, lest, by the establishment of this invention, gold and silver should lose their value. Dion adds, that the author of the discovery was put to death.

The gloom which darkened the Roman capital during this melancholy period, shed a baleful influence on the progress of science throughout the empire, and literature languished during the present reign, in the same proportion as it:had flourished in the preceding. It is doubtful' whether such a change might not have happened in some degree, even had the government of Tiberius been equally mild with that of his predecessor. The prodigious fame of the writers of the Augustan age, by repressing emulation, tended to a general diminution of the efforts of genius for some time; while the banishment of Ovid, it is probable, and the capital punishment of a subsequent poet, for censuring the character of Agamemnon, operated towards the farther discouragement of poetical exertions. There now existed no circumstance to counterbalance these disadvantages. Genius no longer found a patron either in the emperor or his minister; and the gates of the palace were shut against all who cultivated the elegant pursuits of the Muses. Panders, catamites, assassins, wretches stained with every crime, were the constant attendants, as the only fit companions, of the tyrant who now occupied the throne. We are informed, however, that even this emperor had a taste for the liberal arts, and that he composed a lyric poem upon the death of Lucius Caesar, with some Greek poems in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius. But none of these has been transmitted to posterity: and if we should form an opinion of them upon the principle of Catullus, that to be a good poet one ought to be a good man, there is little reason to regret that they have perished.

1 Tacit. Annal. lib. ii.

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