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Hall-tone plate engraved by H. Davidson A ROMAN FEAST IN THE TIME OF THE CÆSARS PROM THR PAINTING BY ALBERT VAUR. OWNED BY MR. BIENRY CHILLTIRIS
ness and harshness, his preoccupation lest demned those accused under the lex de the precarious resources of the government majestate: they consider it an indication of be dissipated in useless expenditures was ignoble servility toward the emperor. Yet dubbed avarice, and the prudence which we know very well that the Roman senate had impelled him to restrain the rash pol- at that time was not composed merely of icy of expansion and aggression which adulators and hirelings; it still included Germanicus had tried to initiate beyond many men of intelligence and character. the Rhine was construed as envy and surly We can explain this severity only by admalignity. Against all considerations of mitting that there were many persons in justice, logic, or good sense, this accusation the senate who judged that the emperor was repeated, and now that destiny had cut could not be left defenseless against the down Germanicus, he was accused' sotto wild slanders of the great families, since voce of being responsible for his death by these extravagant and insidious calumnies many of the great families of Rome and compromised not only the prestige and the even in senatorial circles. They treated fame of the ruler, but also the tranquillity, it as most natural that through jealousy he the power, and the integrity of the empire. should poison his own nephew, his adopted Undoubtedly the lex de majestate did give son, the popular descendant of Drusus, the rise in time to false accusations, to private son of that virtuous Antonia, who was his reprisals, and to unjust sentences of conbest and most faithful friend! But if, demnation. Although it had been devised after having been accepted as true by the to defend the prestige of the state in the great families of Rome who sent it on its person of the magistrates who represented rounds, such a report had been allowed to it, the law was frequently invoked by sencirculate through the empire, how much ators who wished to vent their fiercest perauthority would have been left to an em- sonal hatreds. Yet we must go slow in peror who was suspected of so terrible a accusing Tiberius of these excesses. Tacicrime? How could he have maintained tus himself, who was averse to the emdiscipline in the army, of which he was peror, recounts several incidents which the head, and order among the people of show him in the act of intervening in trials Rome, of whom, as tribune, he was the of high treason for the benefit of the acgreat protector? How could he have di- cused precisely for the purpose of hinderrected, urged on, or restrained the senate, ing these excesses of private vengeance. of which he was, in the language of to-dayThe accounts which we have of many the president? The various Italian peo- other trials are so brief and so biased that ples from whom the army and the judges it is not fair for us to hazard a judgment. were drawn did not yet consider the head We do know, however, that after the of the state a being so superior to the laws death of Germanicus there was formed at that it would be permissible for him to Rome, in the imperial family and the sencommit crimes which were branded as dis- ate, a party of Agrippina, which began an gustingly repulsive to ordinary human implacable war upon Tiberius, and that nature.
Tiberius, the so-called tyrant, was at the No historian who understands the af- beginning very weak, undecided, and vacilfairs of the world in general, and the story lating in his resistance to this new opposiof the first century of the empire in par- tion. His opponents did not spare his ticular, will attribute to ferocity or to the person; they did their best to spread the tyrannical spirit of Tiberius the increas- belief that the emperor was a poisoner, and ingly harsh application of the lex de majes- persecuted him relentlessly with this tate which followed the death of Ger- calumny; they were already pushing formanicus and the trial of Piso. This harsh ward Nero, the first-born son of Gerness was the natural reaction against the manicus, though in 21 A.D. he was only delirium of atrocious calumnies against fourteen years old, in order that he might Tiberius which raged in the aristocracy in time be made the rival of Tiberius. of that time and especially in the house of The latter, indeed, tried at first to modeAgrippina.
rate the charges of high treason, his suToo credulous of Tacitus, many writers preme defense; he feigned that he did not have severely characterized the facility and know or did not see many things, and inthe severity with which the senate con- stead of resisting, he began to make long
sojourns away from Rome, thus turning party of Agrippina, with its intrigues, and over the capital, in which the pretorian the weakness and uncertainty of Tiberius, guard remained, to the calumnies of his made of him, however, for a certain time, enemies. Of all these enemies the most a formidable power. It is not difficult to terrible was Agrippina, who, passionate, see whence this power arose. The loyalty vehement, without judgment, abused both of the pretorian guard, upon which dethe relationship which protected her and pended the security and the safety of the the pity which her misfortune had aroused. imperial authority, was one of the things She allowed no occasion for taunting Ti- which must seriously have preoccupied Tiberius with his pretended crime to escape berius, particularly in the face of the perher, using to this end not only words, but sistent and insidious intrigues and accusascenes and actions, which impressed the tions of the party of Agrippina. The public even more strongly than open ac- guard lived at Rome, in continual contact cusations could have done. A supper to with the senate and the imperial house. which Tiberius had invited her became Everything which was said in the senafamous at Rome, for at it she refused torial circles or in the palaces of the emobstinately and ostentatiously to touch any peror or of his relatives was quickly food or drink whatever, to the astonish- repeated among the cohorts, and the memment of the guests, who understood per- ory of Drusus and Germanicus was deeply fectly what her gestures meant. And such venerated by the pretorians. If the guard calumnies and such affronts Tiberius an- could have been persuaded that the emswered only with a weary and disdainful peror was a poisoner of his kindred, their inertia; at most, when his patience was loyalty would have been exposed to numexhausted, some bitter and concise reproof berless intrigues and attempts at seduction. would escape him.
In such a condition of affairs, a I have no doubt that Tiberius had re- mander of the guard who could inspire solved at the beginning to avoid all harsh Tiberius with a complete and absolute measures as far as possible ; for unpopular, trust might easily acquire a great influence misunderstood, and detested as he was, he over him. Sejanus knew how to inspire did not dare to use violence against a this trust. This was partly by reason of large part of the aristocracy and against his origin, for the equestrian order, on achis own house. Furthermore, Agrippina count of its ancient rivalry with the senawas the least intelligent of the women of torial nobility, was more favorably inclined the family, and her senseless opposition than the latter toward the imperial authorcould be tolerated as long as Livia and ity; and partly also on account of certain Antonia, the two really serious ladies of reforms which he had succeeded in introthe family, sided with Tiberius. But it is ducing into the pretorian guard. easy to understand that this situation could Once he had acquired the emperor's not long endure. A power which defends confidence, the ambitious and intelligent itself weakly against the attacks of its prefect of the pretorians proceeded to renenemies is destined to sink rapidly into a der himself indispensable in all things. decline, and the party of Agrippina would The moment was favorable ; Tiberius was therefore quickly have gained favor and becoming more and more wearied of his power had there not arisen, to sustain the many affairs, of his many struggles, of his vacillating strength of Tiberius, a man countless responsibilities; more and more whose name was to become sadly famous disgusted with Rome, with its society, with - Sejanus, the commander of the pre- the too frequent contacts with the men torian guard.
whom it was his fate to govern. He was Sejanus belonged to an obscure family in the earlier stages of that settled melanof knights—to what we should now call choly which grew deeper and deeper in the bourgeoisie. He was not a senator, the last ten years of his life, and which and he held no great political position; for had grown upon him as the result of long his charge as commander of the guard was antagonisms, of great bitterness, and of a purely military office. In ordinary times continual terrors and suspicions; and if it he would have remained a secondary per- is true that Tiberius was addicted to the sonage, exclusively concerned with the vice of heavy drinking, as we read in anexacting duties of his command; but the cient writers, the abuse of wine may also