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18. DRUSUS, a son of Germanicus and Agrippina. In A. D. 23, he assumed the toga virilis, and the senate went through the form of allowing him to be a candidate for the quaestorship five years before the legal age. (Tac. Ann. 4.4.) Afterwards, as we learn from Suetonius (Caligula, 12), he was made augur. He was a youth of an unamiable disposition, in which cunning and ferocity were mingled. His elder brother Nero was higher in the favour of Agrippina, and stood between him and the hope of succession to the empire. This produced a deep hatred of Nero in the envious and ambitious mind of Drusus. Sejanus, too, was anxious to succeed Tiberius, and sought to remove out of the way all who from their parentage would be likely to oppose his schemes. Though he already meditated the destruction of Drusus, he first chose to take advantage of his estrangement from Nero, and engaged him in the plots against his elder brother, which ended in the banishment and death of that wretched prince. (Ann. 4.60.) Tiberius had witnessed with displeasure the marks of public favour which were exhibited towards Nero and Drusus as members of the house of Germanicus, and gladly forwarded the plans that were contrived for their destruction. He declared in the senate his disapprobation of the public prayers which had been offered for their health, and this indication was enough to encourage accusers. Aemilia Lepida, the wife of Drusus, a woman of the most abandoned character, made frequent charges against him. (Ann. 6.40.) The words which he spoke, when heated with wine or roused to anger, were reported to the palace, and represented by the emperor to the senate, in A. D. 30, in a document which contained every charge that could be collected, heightened by invective. Drusus, like his elder brother, was condemned to death as an enemy of the state; but Tiberius kept him for some years imprisoned in a small chamber in the lowest part of the palace, intending to put him forward as a leader of the people, in case any attempt to seize the supreme command should be made by Sejanus. Finding, however, that a belief prevailed that he was likely to be reconciled to Agrippina and her son, with his usual love of baffling expectations, and veiling his intentions in impenetrable obscurity, he gave orders, in A. D. 33, that Drusus should be starved to death. Drusus lived for nine days after this cruel sentence, having prolonged his miserable existence by devouring the tow with which his mattress was stuffed. (Suet. Tib. 54; Tac. Ann. 6.23

An exact account had been kept by Actius, a centurion, and Didymus, a freedman, of all that occurred in his dungeon during his long incarceration. In this journal were set down the names of the slaves who had beaten or terrified him when he attempted to leave his chamber, the savage rebukes administered to him by the centurion, his secret murmurs, and the words he uttered when perishing with hunger. Tiberius, after his death, went to the senate, inveighed against the shameful profligacy of his life, his desire to destroy his relatives, and his disaffection to the state; and proceeded, in proof of these charges, to order the journal of his sayings and doings to be read. This was too much, even for the Roman senate, degraded as it was. The senators were struck with astonishment and alarm at the contemptuous indecency of such an exposure by a tyrant formerly so dark, and deep, and vary in the concealment of his crimes; and they interrupted the horrid recital, under the pretence of uttering exclamations of detestation at the misconduct of Drusus. (Ann. 6.24.)

In A. D. 31, a pretender had appeared among the Cyclades and in Greece, whose followers gave out that he was Drusus, the son of Germanicus, scaled from prison, and that he was proceeding to join the armies of his father, and to invade Egypt and Syria. This affair might have had serious consequences, had it not been for the activity of Poppaeus Sabinus, who, after a sharp pursuit, caught the false Drusus at Nicopolis, and extracted from him a confession that he was a son of M. Silanus. (Ann. 5.10; D. C. 58.7.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.23
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 54
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