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16. DRUSUS CAESAR, commonly called by modern writers Drusus Junior, to distinguish him from his uncle Drusus, the brother of Tiberius (No. 11), was the son of the emperor Tiberius by his first wife, Vipsania, who was the daughter of Agrippa by Pomponia, the daughter of Atticus. Thus, his great-grandfather was only a Roman knight, and his descent on the mother's side was by no means so splendid as that of his cousin Germanicus, who was a grandson of the triumvir Antony and great-nephew of Augustus. He married Livia, the sister of Germanicus, after the death of her first husband, Caius Caesar, the son of Augustus and Scribonia; but his wife was neither so popular nor so prolific as Agrippina, the wife of Germanicus. However, she bore him three children--two sons, who were twins, and a daughter. Of the twins, one died shortly after his father, and the other, Tiberius, was murdered by the emperor Caligula. The daughter, Julia, was first married to Nero, son of Germanicus, and, after his death, she carried the noble blood of the Drusi into the equestrian family of the Rubellii, by uniting herself with C. Rubellius Blandus. (Tac. Ann. 6.27; Juv. Sat. 8.40.) As long as Germanicus lived, the court was divided between the parties of Germanicus and Drusus, and Tiberius artfully held the balance of favour even between them, taking care not to declare which should be his successor. Notwithstanding so many circumstances which were likely to produce alienation and jealousy, it is one of the best traits in the character of Drusus, that he always preserved a cordial friendship for Germanicus, and, upon his death, was kind to his children. (Tac. Ann. 2.43, 4.4.) When Piso, relying on the ordinary baseness of human nature, after the death of Germanicus, endeavoured to secure the protection of Drusus, Drusus replied to his overtures with a studied ambiguity, which appeared to be a lesson of the emperor's craft, for his own disposition was naturally frank and unguarded. (Ann. 3.8.) Though he had not the dissimulation of Tiberius, he was nearly his equal in impurity and in cruelty. He delighted in slaughter, and such was his ferocity, that the sharpest sword-blades took from him the name of Drusine blades. (D. C. 57.13.) He was not only a drunkard himself, but he forced his guests to drink to excess. Plutarch relates how a physician was treated, who was detected in an attempt to keep himself sober by taking bitter-almonds as an antidote to the effects of wine. (Sympos. 1.6.) Tiberius behaved harshly to his son, and often upbraided him, both in public and private, for his debaucheries, mingling threats of disinheritance with his upbraidings.

In A. D. 10 he was quaestor. After the death of Augustus, A. D. 14, (in whose praise he read a funeral oration before the rostra,) he was sent into Pannonia to quell the mutiny of the legions. This task he performed with address, and with the vigour of innate nobility. He ordered the execution of the leaders, and the superstitious fears produced in the minds of the soldiers by an opportune eclipse of the moon aided his efforts. (Tac. Ann. 1.24-30.) After his return to Rome, he was made consul in A. D. 15, and, at the gladiatorial games which he gave in co injunction with Germanicus (his brother by adoption), he made himself so remarkable by his sanguinary taste for vulgarblood, as even to offend the squeamishness of Roman spectators. (Ann. 1.76.) He degraded the dignity of his office by his excesses, and by his fondness for players, whom he encouraged in their factious riots, in opposition to his father's laws. In one of his ordinary ebullitions of passion, he pummelled a Roman knight, and, from this exhibition of his pugilistic propensities, obtained the nickname of Castor. (D. C. 57.14.) In the following year Tiberius sent him to Illyricum, not only to teach him the art of war, and to make him popular with the soldiery, but to remove him from the dissipations of the city. It is not easy to determine the exact scene of his operations, but he succeeded in fomenting dissension among the Germanic tribes, and destroyed the power of Maroboduus. For these successes an ovation was decreed to him by the senate. In the year A. D. 21, he was consul a second time, and the emperor was his colleague. In A. D. 22, he was promoted to the still higher dignity of the " tribunicia potestas," a title devised by Augustus to avoid the obloquy attending the name of king or dictator. By this title subsequent emperors counted the years of their reign upon their coins. It rendered the power of intercession and the sacrosanct character of tribunus plebis compatible with patrician birth. To confer it upon Drusus was clearly to point him out as the intended successor to the empire. (Ann. 3.56.)

On one occasion Drusus, who regarded Sejanus as a rival, gave way to the impetuosity of his temper, and struck the favourite upon the face. The ambition of Sejanus had taught him to aspire to the empire, and to plot against all who stood in his way. The desire of vengeance was now added to the stimulus of ambition. He turned to Livia, the wife of Drusus, seduced her affections, persuaded the adulteress to become the murderer of her hus band, and promised that he would marry her when Drusus was got rid of. Her physician Eudemus was made an accomplice in the conspiracy, and a poison was administered to Drusus by the eunuch Lygdus, which terminated his life by a lingering disease, that was supposed at the time to be the consequence of intemperance. (Suet. Tib. 62.) This occurred in A. D. 23, and was first brought to light eight years afterwards, upon the information of Apicata, the wife of Sejanus, supported by the confessions, elicited by torture, of Eudemus and Lygdus. (Ann. 4.3, 8, 11.)

The funeral of Drusus was celebrated with the greatest external honours, but the people were pleased at heart to see the chance of succession revert to the house of Germanicus. Tiberius bore the death of his only son with a cool equanimity which indicated a want of natural affection.

The annexed coin contains on the obverse the head of Drusus, with DRVSVS CAESAR TI. AUG, F. DIVI AUG. N., and on the reverse PONTIF. TRIBVN. POTEST. ITER.

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  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.24
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.30
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.43
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.27
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 62
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