The Life of Tiberius, 30–38

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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30He even introduced a semblance of free government by maintaining the ancient dignity and powers of the senate and the magistrates; for there was no matter of public or private business so small or so great that he did not lay it before the senators, consulting them about revenues and monopolies, constructing and restoring public buildings, and even about levying and disbanding the soldiers, and the disposal of the legionaries and auxiliaries; finally about the extension of military commands and appointments to the conduct of wars, and the form and content of his replies to the letters of kings. He forced the commander of a troop of horse, when charged with violence and robbery, to plead his cause before the senate. He always entered the House alone; and when he was brought in once in a litter because of illness, he dismissed his attendants.

31When certain decrees were passed contrary to his expressed opinion, he did not even remonstrate. Although he declared that those who were elected to office ought to remain in the city and give personal attention to their duties, a praetor elect obtained permission to travel abroad with the privileges of an ambassador. On another occasion when he recommended that the people of Trebia be allowed to use, in making a road, a sum of money which had been left them for the construction of a new theatre, he could not prevent the wish of the testator from being carried out. When it happened that the senate passed a decree by division and he went over to the side of the minority, not a man followed him.

2Other business as well was done solely through the magistrates and the ordinary process of law, while the importance of the consuls was such that certain envoys from Africa presented themselves before them with the complaint that their time was being wasted by Caesar, to whom they had been sent. And this was not surprising, for it was plain to all that he himself actually arose in the presence of the consuls, and made way for them on the street.

32He rebuked some ex-consuls in command of armies, because they did not write their reports to the senate, and for referring to him the award of some military prizes, as if they had not themselves the right to bestow everything of the kind. He highly complimented a praetor, because on entering upon his office he had revived the custom of eulogizing his ancestors before the people. He attended the obsequies of certain distinguished men, even going to the funeral-pyre.

2He showed equal modesty towards persons of lower rank and in matters of less moment. When he had summoned the magistrates of Rhodes, because they had written him letters on public business without the concluding formula, he uttered not a word of censure, but merely dismissed them with orders to supply the omission. The grammarian Diogenes, who used to lecture every Sabbath at Rhodes, would not admit Tiberius when he came to hear him on a different day, but sent a message by a common slave of his, putting him off to the seventh day. When this man waited before the Emperor’s door at Rome to pay his respects, Tiberius took no further revenge than to bid him return seven years later. To the governors who recommended burdensome taxes for his provinces, he wrote in answer that it was the part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not skin it.

33Little by little he unmasked the ruler, and although for some time his conduct was variable, yet he more often showed himself kindly and devoted to the public weal. His intervention too was at first limited to the prevention of abuses. Thus he revoked some regulations of the senate and sometimes offered the magistrates his services as adviser, when they sat in judgment on the tribunal, taking his place beside them or opposite them at one end of the platform; and if it was rumoured that any of the accused were being acquitted through influence, he would suddenly appear, and either from the floor or from the judge’s tribunal remind the jurors of the laws and of their oath, as well as of the nature of the crime on which they were sitting in judgment. Moreover, if the public morals were in any way affected by laziness or bad habits he undertook to reform them.

34He reduced the cost of the games and shows by cutting down the pay of the actors and limiting the pairs of gladiators to a fixed number. Complaining bitterly that the prices of Corinthian bronzes had risen to an immense figure and that three mullets had been sold for thirty thousand sesterces, he proposed that a limit be set to household furniture and that the prices in the market should be regulated each year at the discretion of the senate; while the aediles were instructed to put such restrictions on cook-shops and eating-houses as not to allow even pastry to be exposed for sale. Furthermore, to encourage general frugality by his personal example, he often served at formal dinners meats left over from the day before and partly consumed, or the half of a boar, declaring that it had all the qualities of a whole one.

2He issued an edict forbidding general kissing, as well as the exchange of New Year’s gifts after the Kalends of January. It was his custom to return a gift of four-fold value, and in person; but annoyed at being interrupted all through the month by those who did not have access to him on the holiday, he did not continue it.

35He revived the custom of our forefathers, that in the absence of a public prosecutor matrons of ill-repute be punished according to the decision of a council of their relatives. He absolved a Roman knight from his oath and allowed him to put away his wife, who was taken in adultery with her son-in-law, even though he had previously sworn that he would never divorce her. 2Notorious women had begun to make an open profession of prostitution, to avoid the punishment of the laws by giving up the privileges and rank of matrons, while the most profligate young men of both orders voluntarily incurred degradation from their rank, so as not to be prevented by the decree of the senate from appearing on the stage and in the arena. All such men and women he punished with exile, to prevent anyone from shielding himself by such a device. He deprived a senator of his broad stripe on learning that he had moved to his gardens just before the Kalends of July, with the design of renting a house in the city at a lower figure after that date. He deposed another from his quaestorship, because he had taken a wife the day before casting lots and divorced her the day after.

36He abolished foreign cults, especially the Egyptian and the Jewish rites, compelling all who were addicted to such superstitions to burn their religious vestments and all their paraphernalia. Those of the Jews who were of military age he assigned to provinces of unhealthy climate, ostensibly to serve in the army; the others of that same race or of similar beliefs he banished from the city, on pain of slavery for life if they did not obey. He banished the astrologers as well, but pardoned such as begged for indulgence and promised to give up their art.

37He gave special attention to securing safety from prowling brigands and lawless outbreaks. He stationed garrisons of soldiers nearer together than before throughout Italy, while at Rome he established a camp for the barracks of the praetorian cohorts, which before that time had been quartered in isolated groups in divers lodging houses.

2He took great pains to prevent outbreaks of the populace and punished such as occurred with the utmost severity. When a quarrel in the theatre ended in bloodshed, he banished the leaders of the factions, as well as the actors who were the cause of the dissension; and no entreaties of the people could ever induce him to recall them. 3When the populace of Pollentia would not allow the body of a chief-centurion to be taken from the forum until their violence had extorted money from his heirs for a gladiatorial show, he dispatched one cohort from the city and another from the kingdom of Cottius, concealing the reason for the move, sent them into the city by different gates, suddenly revealing their arms and sounding their trumpets, and consigned the greater part of the populace and of the decurions to imprisonment. He abolished the customary right of asylum in all parts of the empire. Because the people of Cyzicus ventured to commit acts of special lawlessness against Roman citizens, he took from them the freedom which they had earned in the war with Mithridates.

4He undertook no campaign after his accession, but quelled outbreaks of the enemy through his generals; and even this he did only reluctantly and of necessity. Such kings as were disaffected and objects of his suspicion he held in check rather by threats and remonstrances than by force; some he lured to Rome by flattering promises and detained there, such as Marobodus the German, Rhascuporis the Thracian, and Archelaus of Cappadocia, whose realm he also reduced to the form of a province.

38For two whole years after becoming emperor he did not set foot outside the gates; after that he went nowhere except to the neighbouring towns, at farthest to Antium, and even that very seldom and for a few days at a time. Yet he often gave out that he would visit the provinces too and the armies, and nearly every year he made preparations for a journey by chartering carriages and arranging for supplies in the free towns and colonies. Finally he allowed vows to be put up for his voyage and return, so that at last everybody jokingly gave him the name of Callippides, who was proverbial among the Greeks for running without getting ahead a cubit’s length.

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