The Life of Tiberius, 39–49

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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39But after being bereft of both his sons, of whom Germanicus had died in Syria and Drusus at Rome, he retired to Campania, and almost everyone firmly believed and openly declared that he would never come back, but would soon die there. And both predictions were all but fulfilled; for he did not return again to Rome, and it chanced a few days later that as he was dining near Tarracina in a villa called the Grotto, many huge rocks fell from the ceiling and crushed a number of the guests and servants, while the emperor himself had a narrow escape.

40After traversing Campania and dedicating the Capitolium at Capua and a temple to Augustus at Nola, which was the pretext he had given for his journey, he went to Capreae, particularly attracted to that island because it was accessible by only one small beach, being everywhere else girt with sheer cliffs of great height and by deep water. But he was at once recalled by the constant entreaties of the people, because of a disaster at Fidenae, where more than twenty thousand spectators had perished through the collapse of the amphitheatre during a gladiatorial show. So he crossed to the mainland and made himself accessible to all, the more willingly because he had given orders on leaving the city that no one was to disturb him, and during the whole trip had repulsed those who tried to approach him.

41Then returning to the island, he utterly neglected the conduct of state affairs, from that time on never filling the vacancies in the decuries of the knights, nor changing the tribunes of the soldiers and prefects or the governors of any of his provinces. He left Spain and Syria without consular governors for several years, suffered Armenia to be overrun by the Parthians, Moesia to be laid waste by the Dacians and Sarmatians, and the Gallic provinces by the Germans, to the great dishonour of the empire and no less to its danger.

42Moreover, having gained the licence of privacy, and being as it were out of sight of the citizens, he at last gave free rein at once to all the vices which he had for a long time ill concealed; and of these I shall give a detailed account from the beginning. Even at the outset of his military career his excessive love of wine gave him the name of Biberius, instead of Tiberius, Caldius for Claudius, and Mero for Nero. Later, when emperor and at the very time that he was busy correcting the public morals, he spent a night and two whole days feasting and drinking with Pomponius Flaccus and Lucius Piso, immediately afterward making the one governor of the province of Syria and the other prefect of the city, and even declaring in their commissions that they were the most agreeable of friends, who could always be counted on. 2He had a dinner given him by Cestius Gallus, a lustful and prodigal old man, who had once been degraded by Augustus and whom he had himself rebuked a few days before in the senate, making the condition that Cestius should change or omit none of his usual customs, and that nude girls should wait upon them at table. He gave a very obscure candidate for the quaestorship preference over men of the noblest families, because at the emperor’s challenge he had drained an amphora of wine at a banquet. He paid Asellius Sabinus two hundred thousand sesterces for a dialogue, in which he had introduced a contest of a mushroom, a fig-pecker, an oyster and a thrush. He established a new office, master of the imperial pleasures, assigning it to Titus Caesonius Priscus, a Roman knight.

43[Chapters 43 and 44 were left untranslated in this edition:]    [. . . .] 2[. . . .] 44[. . . .] 2[. . . .]

45How grossly he was in the habit of abusing women even of high birth is very clearly shown by the death of a certain Mallonia. When she was brought to his bed and refused most vigorously to submit to his lust, he turned her over to the informers, and even when she was on trial he did not cease to call out and ask her “whether she was sorry”; so that finally she left the court and went home, where she stabbed herself, openly upbraiding the ugly old man for his obscenity. Hence a stigma put upon him at the next plays in an Atellan farce was received with great applause and became current, that “the old goat was licking the does.”

46In money matters he was frugal and close, never allowing the companions of his foreign tours and campaigns a salary, but merely their keep. Only once did he treat them liberally, and then through the generosity of his stepfather, when he formed three classes according to each man’s rank and gave to the first six hundred thousand sesterces, to the second four hundred thousand, and to the third, which he called one, not of his friends, but of his Greeks, two hundred thousand.

47While emperor he constructed no magnificent public works, for the only ones which he undertook, the temple of Augustus and the restoration of Pompey’s theatre, he left unfinished after so many years. He gave no public shows at all, and very seldom attended those given by others, for fear that some request would be made of him, especially after he was forced to buy the freedom of a comic actor named Actius. Having relieved the neediness of a few senators, he avoided the necessity of further aid by declaring that he would help no others unless they proved to the senate that there were legitimate causes for their condition. Therefore diffidence and a sense of shame kept many from applying, among them Hortalus, grandson of Quintus Hortensius the orator, who though of very limited means had begotten four children with the encouragement of Augustus.

48He showed generosity to the public in but two instances, once when he offered to lend a hundred million sesterces without interest for a period of three years, and again when he made good the losses of some owners of blocks of houses on the Caelian mount, which had burned down. The former was forced upon him by the clamour of the people for help in a time of great financial stress, after he had failed to relieve the situation by a decree of the senate, providing that the money-lenders should invest two-thirds of their property in land, and that the debtors should at once pay the same proportion of their indebtedness; and the latter also was to relieve a condition of great hardship. Yet he made so much of his liberality in the latter case, that he had the name of the Caelian changed to the Augustan Mount. 2After he had doubled the legacies provided for in the will of Augustus, he never gave largess to the soldiers, with the exception of a hundred denarii to each of the praetorians, for not taking sides with Sejanus, and some presents to the legions in Syria, because they alone had consecrated no image of Sejanus among their standards. He also very rarely allowed veteran soldiers their discharge, having an eye to their death from years, and a saving of money through their death. He did not relieve the provinces either by any act of liberality, except Asia, when some cities were destroyed by an earthquake.

49Presently, as time went on, he even resorted to plunder. All the world knows that he drove Gnaeus Lentulus Augur, a man of great wealth, to take his own life through fear and mental anxiety, and to make the emperor his sole heir; that Lepida, too, a woman of high birth, was condemned to death to gratify Quirinus, an opulent and childless ex-consul, who had divorced her after twenty years of wedded life, accusing her of an attempt to poison him many years before; 2that besides this the leading men of the Spanish and Gallic provinces, as well as of Syria and Greece, had their property confiscated on trivial and shameless charges, some being accused of nothing more serious than having a part of their property in ready money; that many states and individuals were deprived of immunities of long standing, and of the right of working mines and collecting revenues; that Vonones, king of the Parthians, who on being dethroned by his subjects had taken refuge at Antioch with a vast treasure, in the belief that he was putting himself under the protection of the Roman people, was treacherously despoiled and put to death.

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