The Life of Tiberius, 50–59

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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50He first showed his hatred of his kindred in the case of his brother Drusus, producing a letter of his, in which Drusus discussed with him the question of compelling Augustus to restore the Republic; and then he turned against the rest. So far from showing any courtesy or kindness to his wife Julia, after her banishment, which is the least that one might expect, although her father’s order had merely confined her to one town, he would not allow her even to leave her house or enjoy the society of mankind. Nay more, he even deprived her of the allowance granted her by her father and of her yearly income, under colour of observance of the common law, since Augustus had made no provision for these in his will. 2Vexed at his mother Livia, alleging that she claimed an equal share in the rule, he shunned frequent meetings with her and long and confidential conversations, to avoid the appearance of being guided by her advice; though in point of fact he was wont every now and then to need and to follow it. He was greatly offended too by a decree of the senate, providing that “son of Livia,” as well as “son of Augustus” should be written in his honorary inscriptions. 3For this reason he would not suffer her to be named “Parent of her Country,” nor to receive any conspicuous public honour. More than that, he often warned her not to meddle with affairs of importance and unbecoming a woman, especially after he learned that at a fire near the temple of Vesta she had been present in person, and urged the people and soldiers to greater efforts, as had been her way while her husband was alive.

51Afterwards he reached the point of open enmity, and the reason, they say, was this. On her urging him again and again to appoint among the jurors a man who had been made a citizen, he declared that he would do it only on condition that she would allow an entry to be made in the official list that it was forced upon him by his mother. Then Livia, in a rage, drew from a secret place and read some old letters written to her by Augustus with regard to the austerity and stubbornness of Tiberius’ disposition. He in turn was so put out that these had been preserved so long and were thrown up at him in such a spiteful spirit, that some think that this was the very strongest of the reasons for his retirement. 2At all events, during all the three years that she lived after he left Rome he saw her but once, and then only one day, for a very few hours; and when shortly after that she fell ill, he took no trouble to visit her. When she died, and after a delay of several days, during which he held out hope of his coming, had at last been buried because the condition of the corpse made it necessary, he forbade her deification, alleging that he was acting according to her own instructions. He further disregarded the provisions of her will, and within a short time caused the downfall of all her friends and intimates, even of those to whom she had on her deathbed entrusted the care of her obsequies, actually condemning one of them, and that a man of equestrian rank, to the treadmill.

52He had a father’s affection neither for his natural son Drusus nor his adopted son Germanicus, being exasperated at the former’s vices; and, in fact, Drusus led a somewhat loose and dissolute life. Therefore, even when he died, Tiberius was not greatly affected, but almost immediately after the funeral returned to his usual routine, forbidding a longer period of mourning. 2Nay, more, when a deputation from Ilium offered him somewhat belated condolences, he replied with a smile, as if the memory of his bereavement had faded from his mind, that they, too, had his sympathy for the loss of their eminent fellow-citizen Hector. As to Germanicus, he was so far from appreciating him, that he made light of his illustrious deeds as unimportant, and railed at his brilliant victories as ruinous to his country. He even made complaint in the senate when Germanicus, on the occasion of a sudden and terrible famine, went to Alexandria without consulting him. 3It is even believed that he caused his death at the hands of Gnaeus Piso, governor of Syria, and some think that when Piso was tried on that charge, he would have produced his instructions, had not Tiberius caused them to be taken from him when Piso privately showed them, and the man himself to be put to death. Because of this the words, “Give us back Germanicus,” were posted in many places, and shouted at night all over the city. And Tiberius afterwards strengthened this suspicion by cruelly abusing the wife and children of Germanicus as well.

53When his daughter-in-law Agrippina was somewhat outspoken in her complaints after her husband’s death, he took her by the hand and quoted a Greek verse, meaning, “Do you think a wrong is done you, dear daughter, if you are not empress?” After that he never deigned to hold any conversation with her. Indeed, after she showed fear of tasting an apple which he handed her at dinner, he even ceased to invite her to his table, alleging that he had been charged with an attempt to poison her; but as a matter of fact, the whole affair had been pre-arranged, that he should offer her the fruit to test her, and that she should refuse it as containing certain death. 2At last, falsely charging her with a desire to take refuge, now at the statue of Augustus and now with the armies, he exiled her to Pandataria, and when she loaded him with reproaches, he had her beaten by a centurion until one of her eyes was destroyed. Again, when she resolved to die of starvation, he had her mouth pried open and food crammed into it. Worst of all, when she persisted in her resolution and so perished, he assailed her memory with the basest slanders, persuading the senate to add her birthday to the days of ill omen, and actually taking credit to himself for not having had her strangled and her body cast out on the Stairs of Mourning. He even allowed a decree to be passed in recognition of this remarkable clemency, in which thanks were offered him and a golden gift was consecrated to Jupiter of the Capitol.

54By Germanicus he had three grandsons, Nero, Drusus, and Gaius, and by Drusus one, called Tiberius. Bereft of his own children, he recommended Nero and Drusus, the elder sons of Germanicus, to the senate, and celebrated the day when each of them came to his majority by giving largess to the commons. But as soon as he learned that at the beginning of the year vows were being put up for their safety also, he referred the matter to the senate, saying that such honours ought to be conferred only on those of tried character and mature years. 2By revealing his true feelings towards them from that time on, he exposed them to accusations from all quarters, and after resorting to various tricks to rouse them to rail at him, and seeing to it that they were betrayed when they did so, he brought most bitter charges against them both in writing; and when they had in consequence been pronounced public enemies, he starved them to death, Nero on the island of Pontia and Drusus in a lower room of the Palace. It is thought that Nero was forced to take his own life, since an executioner, who pretended that he came by authority of the senate, showed him the noose and hooks, but that Drusus was so tortured by hunger that he tried to eat the stuffing of his mattress; while the remains of both were so scattered that it was with difficulty that they could ever be collected.

55In addition to his old friends and intimates, he had asked for twenty of the leading men of the State as advisers on public affairs. Of all these he spared hardly two or three; the others he destroyed on one pretext or another, including Aelius Sejanus, whose downfall involved the death of many others. This man he had advanced to the highest power, not so much from regard for him, as that he might through his services and wiles destroy the children of Germanicus and secure the succession for his own grandson, the child of his son Drusus.

56He was not a whit milder towards his Greek companions, in whose society he took special pleasure. When one Xeno was holding forth in somewhat far-fetched phrases, he asked him what dialect that was which was so affected, and on Xeno’s replying that it was Doric, he banished him to Cinaria, believing that he was being taunted with his old-time exile, inasmuch as the Rhodians spoke Doric. He had the habit, too, of putting questions at dinner suggested by his daily reading, and learning that the grammarian Seleucus inquired of the imperial attendants what authors Tiberius was reading and so came primed, he at first banished the offender from his society, and later even forced him to commit suicide.

57His cruel and cold-blooded character was not completely hidden even in his boyhood. His teacher of rhetoric, Theodoras of Gadara, seems first to have had the insight to detect it, and to have characterized it very aptly, since in taking him to task he would now and then call him πηλὸν αἵματι πεφυραμένον, that is to say, “mud kneaded with blood.” But it grew still more noticeable after he became emperor, even at the beginning, when he was still courting popularity by a show of moderation. 2When a funeral was passing by and a jester called aloud to the corpse to let Augustus know that the legacies which he had left to the people were not yet being paid, Tiberius had the man haled before him, ordered that he be given his due and put to death, and bade him go tell the truth to his father. Shortly afterwards, when a Roman knight called Pompeius stoutly opposed some action in the senate, Tiberius threatened him with imprisonment; declaring that from a Pompeius he would make of him a Pompeian, punning cruelly on the man’s name and the fate of the old party.

58It was at about this time that a praetor asked him whether he should have the courts convened to consider cases of lese-majestie; to which he replied that the laws must be enforced, and he did enforce them most rigorously. One man had removed the head from a statue of Augustus, to substitute that of another; the case was tried in the senate, and since the evidence was conflicting, the witnesses were examined by torture. After the defendant had been condemned, this kind of accusation gradually went so far that even such acts as these were regarded as capital crimes: to beat a slave near a statue of Augustus, or to change one’s clothes there; to carry a ring or coin stamped with his image into a privy or a brothel, or to criticize any word or act of his. Finally, a man was put to death merely for allowing an honour to be voted him in his native town on the same day that honours had previously been voted to Augustus.

59He did so many other cruel and savage deeds under the guise of strictness and improvement of the public morals, but in reality rather to gratify his natural instincts, that some resorted to verses to express their detestation of the present ills and a warning against those to come:

“Cruel and merciless man, shall I briefly say all I would utter?
Hang me if even your dam for you affection can feel.
You are no knight. Why so? The hundred thousands are lacking;
If you ask the whole tale, you were an exile at Rhodes.
You, O Caesar, have altered the golden ages of Saturn;
For while you are alive, iron they ever will be.
Nothing for wine cares this fellow, since now ‘tis for blood he is thirsting;
This he as greedily quaffs as before wine without water.
2Look, son of Rome, upon Sulla, for himself not for you blest and happy,
Marius too, if you will, but after capturing Rome;
Hands of an Antony see, rousing the strife of the people,
Hands stained with blood not once, dripping again and again;
Then say: Rome is no more! He ever has reigned with great bloodshed,
Whoso made himself king, coming from banishment home.”

These at first he wished to be taken as the work of those who were impatient of his reforms, voicing not so much their real feelings as their anger and vexation; and he used to say from time to time: “Let them hate me, provided they respect my conduct.” Later he himself proved them only too true and unerring.

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