The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

In this period died, in the eighty-sixth year of her age, Livia Drusilla,
mother of the emperor, and the relict of Augustus, whom she survived
fifteen years. She was the daughter of L. Drusus Calidianus and married
Tiberius Claudius Nero, by whom she had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus.
The conduct of this lady seems to justify the remark of Caligula, that
“she was an Ulysses in a woman’s dress.” Octavius first saw her as she
fled from the danger which threatened her husband, who had espoused the
cause of Antony; and though she was then pregnant, he resolved to marry
her; whether with her own inclination or not, is left by Tacitus
undetermined. To pave the way for this union, he divorced his wife
Scribonia, and with the approbation of the Augurs, which he could have no
difficulty in obtaining, celebrated (241) his nuptials with Livia. There
ensued from this marriage no issue, though much desired by both parties;
but Livia retained, without interruption, an unbounded ascendancy over
the emperor, whose confidence she abused, while the uxorious husband
little suspected that he was cherishing in his bosom a viper who was to
prove the destruction of his house. She appears to have entertained a
predominant ambition of giving an heir to the Roman empire; and since it
could not be done by any fruit of her marriage with Augustus, she
resolved on accomplishing that end in the person of Tiberius, the eldest
son by her former husband. The plan which she devised for this purpose,
was to exterminate all the male offspring of Augustus by his daughter
Julia, who was married to Agrippa; a stratagem which, when executed,
would procure for Tiberius, through the means of adoption, the eventual
succession to the empire. The cool yet sanguinary policy, and the
patient perseverance of resolution, with which she prosecuted her design,
have seldom been equalled. While the sons of Julia were yet young, and
while there was still a possibility that she herself might have issue by
Augustus, she suspended her project, in the hope, perhaps, that accident
or disease might operate in its favour; but when the natural term of her
constitution had put a period to her hopes of progeny, and when the
grandsons of the emperor were risen to the years of manhood, and had been
adopted by him, she began to carry into execution what she long had
meditated. The first object devoted to destruction was C. Caesar
Agrippa, the eldest of Augustus’s grandsons. This promising youth was
sent to Armenia, upon an expedition against the Persians; and Lollius,
who had been his governor, either accompanied him thither from Rome, or
met him in the East, where he had obtained some appointment. From the
hand of this traitor, perhaps under the pretext of exercising the
authority of a preceptor, but in reality instigated by Livia, the young
prince received a fatal blow, of which he died some time after.

The manner of Caius’s death seems to have been carefully kept from the
knowledge of Augustus, who promoted Lollius to the consulship, and made
him governor of a province; but, by his rapacity in this station, he
afterwards incurred the emperor’s displeasure. The true character of
this person had escaped the keen discernment of Horace, as well as the
sagacity of the emperor; for in two epistles addressed to Lollius, he
mentions him as great and accomplished in the superlative degree; maxime
Lolli, liberrime Lolli; so imposing had been the manners and address of
this deceitful courtier.

Lucius, the second son of Julia, was banished into Campania, (242) for
using, as it is said, so litious language against his grandfather. In
the seventh year of his exile Augustus proposed to recall him; but Livia
and Tiberius, dreading the consequences of his being restored to the
emperor’s favour, put in practice the expedient of having him immediately
assassinated. Postumus Agrippa, the third son, incurred the displeasure
of his grandfather in the same way as Lucius, and was confined at
Surrentum, where he remained a prisoner until he was put to death by the
order either of Livia alone, or in conjunction with Tiberius, as was
before observed.

Such was the catastrophe, through the means of Livia, of all the
grandsons of Augustus; and reason justifies the inference, that she who
scruple not to lay violent hands upon those young men, had formerly
practised every artifice that could operate towards rendering them
obnoxious to the emperor. We may even ascribe to her dark intrigues the
dissolute conduct of Julia for the woman who could secretly act as
procuress to her own husband, would feel little restraint upon her mind
against corrupting his daughter, when such an effect might contribute to
answer the purpose which she had in view. But in the ingratitude of
Tiberius, however undutiful and reprehensible in a son towards a parent,
she at last experienced a just retribution for the crimes in which she
had trained him to procure the succession to the empire. To the disgrace
of her sex, she introduced amongst the Romans the horrible practice of
domestic murder, little known before the times when the thirst or
intoxication of unlimited power had vitiated the social affections; and
she transmitted to succeeding ages a pernicious example, by which
immoderate ambition might be gratified, at the expense of every moral
obligation, as well as of humanity.

One of the first victims in the sanguinary reign of the present emperor,
was Germanicus, the son of Drusus, Tiberius’s own brother, and who had
been adopted by his uncle himself. Under any sovereign, of a temper
different from that of Tiberius, this amiable and meritorious prince
would have been held in the highest esteem. At the death of his
grandfather Augustus, he was employed in a war in Germany, where he
greatly distinguished himself by his military achievements; and as soon
as intelligence of that event arrived, the soldiers, by whom he was
extremely beloved, unanimously saluted him emperor. Refusing, however,
to accept this mark of their partiality, he persevered in allegiance to
the government of his uncle, and prosecuted the war with success. Upon
the conclusion of this expedition, he was sent, with the title of emperor
in the East, to repress the seditions of the Armenians, in which he was
equally successful. But the (243) fame which he acquired, served only to
render him an object of jealousy to Tiberius, by whose order he was
secretly poisoned at Daphne, near Antioch, in the thirty-fourth year of
his age. The news of Germanicus’s death was received at Rome with
universal lamentation; and all ranks of the people entertained an
opinion, that, had he survived Tiberius, he would have restored the
freedom of the republic. The love and gratitude of the Romans decreed
many honours to his memory. It was ordered, that his name should be sung
in a solemn procession of the Salii; that crowns of oak, in allusion to
his victories, should be placed upon curule chairs in the hall pertaining
to the priests of Augustus; and that an effigy of him in ivory should be
drawn upon a chariot, preceding the ceremonies of the Circensian games.
Triumphal arches were erected, one at Rome, another on the banks of the
Rhine, and a third upon Mount Amanus in Syria, with inscriptions of his
achievements, and that he died for his services to the republic. [376]

His obsequies were celebrated, not with the display of images and funeral
pomp, but with the recital of his praises and the virtues which rendered
him illustrious. From a resemblance in his personal accomplishments, his
age, the manner of his death, and the vicinity of Daphne to Babylon, many
compared his fate to that of Alexander the Great. He was celebrated for
humanity and benevolence, as well as military talents, and amidst the
toils of war, found leisure to cultivate the arts of literary genius. He
composed two comedies in Greek, some epigrams, and a translation of
Aratus into Latin verse. He married Agrippina, the daughter of M.
Agrippa, by whom he had nine children. This lady, who had accompanied
her husband into the east, carried his ashes to Italy, and accused his
murderer, Piso; who, unable to bear up against the public odium incurred
by that transaction, laid violent hands upon himself. Agrippina was now
nearly in the same predicament with regard to Tiberius, that Ovid had
formerly been m respect of Augustus. He was sensible, that when she
accused Piso, she was not ignorant of the person by whom the perpetrator
of the murder had been instigated; and her presence, therefore, seeming
continually to reproach him with his guilt, he resolved to rid himself of
a person become so obnoxious to his sight, and banished her to the island
of Pandataria, where she died some time afterwards of famine.

But it was not sufficient to gratify this sanguinary tyrant, that he had,
without any cause, cut off both Germanicus and his wife Agrippina: the
distinguished merits and popularity of that prince were yet to be
revenged upon his children; and accordingly he (244) set himself to
invent a pretext for their destruction. After endeavouring in vain, by
various artifices, to provoke the resentment of Nero and Drusus against
him, he had recourse to false accusation, and not only charged them with
seditious designs, to which their tender years were ill adapted, but with
vices of a nature the most scandalous. By a sentence of the senate,
which manifested the extreme servility of that assembly, he procured them
both to be declared open enemies to their country. Nero he banished to
the island of Pontia, where, like his unfortunate mother, he miserably
perished by famine; and Drusus was doomed to the same fate, in the lower
part of the Palatium, after suffering for nine days the violence of
hunger, and having, as is related, devoured part of his bed. The
remaining son, Caius, on account of his vicious disposition, he resolved
to appoint his successor on the throne, that, after his own death, a
comparison might be made in favour of his memory, when the Romans should
be governed by a sovereign yet more vicious and more tyrannical, if
possible, than himself.

Sejanus, the minister in the present reign, imitated with success, for
some time, the hypocrisy of his master; and, had his ambitious temper,
impatient of attaining its object, allowed him to wear the mask for a
longer period, he might have gained the imperial diadem; in the pursuit
of which he was overtaken by that fate which he merited still more by his
cruelties than his perfidy to Tiberius. This man was a native of
Volsinium in Tuscany, and the son of a Roman knight. He had first
insinuated himself into the favour of Caius Caesar, the grandson of
Augustus, after whose death he courted the friendship of Tiberius, and
obtained in a short time his entire confidence, which he improved to the
best advantage. The object which he next pursued, was to gain the
attachment of the senate, and the officers of the army; besides whom,
with a new kind of policy, he endeavoured to secure in his interest every
lady of distinguished connections, by giving secretly to each of them a
promise of marriage, as soon as be should arrive at the sovereignty. The
chief obstacles in his way were the sons and grandsons of Tiberius; and
these he soon sacrificed to his ambition, under various pretences.
Drusus, the eldest of this progeny, having in a fit of passion struck the
favourite, was destined by him to destruction. For this purpose, he had
the presumption to seduce Livia, the wife of Drusus, to whom she had
borne several children; and she consented to marry her adulterer upon the
death of her husband, who was soon after poisoned, through the means of
an eunuch named Lygdus, by order of her and Sejanus.

Drusus was the son of Tiberius by Vipsania, one of Agrippa’s (245)
daughters. He displayed great intrepidity during the war in the
provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia, but appears to have been dissolute
in his morals. Horace is said to have written the Ode in praise of
Drusus at the desire of Augustus; and while the poet celebrates the
military courage of the prince, he insinuates indirectly a salutary
admonition to the cultivation of the civil virtues:

Doctrina sed vim promovet insitam,
Rectique cultus pectora roborant:
Utcunque defecere mores,
Dedecorant bene nata culpae.–Ode iv. 4.

Yet sage instructions to refine the soul
And raise the genius, wondrous aid impart,
Conveying inward, as they purely roll,
Strength to the mind and vigour to the heart:
When morals fail, the stains of vice disgrace
The fairest honours of the noblest race.–Francis.

Upon the death of Drusus, Sejanus openly avowed a desire of marrying the
widowed princess; but Tiberius opposing this measure, and at the same
time recommending Germanicus to the senate as his successor in the
empire, the mind of Sejanus was more than ever inflamed by the united,
and now furious, passions of love and ambition. He therefore urged his
demand with increased importunity; but the emperor still refusing his
consent, and things being not yet ripe for an immediate revolt, Sejanus
thought nothing so favourable for the prosecution of his designs as the
absence of Tiberius from the capital. With this view, under the pretence
of relieving his master from the cares of government, he persuaded him to
retire to a distance from Rome. The emperor, indolent and luxurious,
approved of the proposal, and retired into Campania, leaving to his
ambitious minister the whole direction of the empire. Had Sejanus now
been governed by common prudence and moderation, he might have attained
to the accomplishment of all his wishes; but a natural impetuosity of
temper, and the intoxication of power, precipitated him into measures
which soon effected his destruction. As if entirely emancipated from the
control of a master, he publicly declared himself sovereign of the Roman
empire, and that Tiberius, who had by this time retired to Capri, was
only the dependent prince of that tributary island. He even went so far
in degrading the emperor, as to have him introduced in a ridiculous light
upon the stage. Advice of Sejanus’s proceedings was soon carried to the
emperor at Capri; his indignation was immediately excited; and with a
confidence founded upon an authority exercised for several years, he sent
orders for accusing Sejanus (246) before the senate. This mandate no
sooner arrived, than the audacious minister was deserted by his
adherents; he was in a short time after seized without resistance, and
strangled in prison the same day.

Human nature recoils with horror at the cruelties of this execrable
tyrant, who, having first imbrued his hands in the blood of his own
relations, proceeded to exercise them upon the public with indiscriminate
fury. Neither age nor sex afforded any exemption from his insatiable
thirst for blood. Innocent children were condemned to death, and
butchered in the presence of their parents; virgins, without any imputed
guilt, were sacrificed to a similar destiny; but there being an ancient
custom of not strangling females in that situation, they were first
deflowered by the executioner, and afterwards strangled, as if an
atrocious addition to cruelty could sanction the exercise of it. Fathers
were constrained by violence to witness the death of their own children;
and even the tears of a mother, at the execution of her child, were
punished as a capital offence. Some extraordinary calamities, occasioned
by accident, added to the horrors of the reign. A great number of houses
on Mount Caelius were destroyed by fire; and by the fall of a temporary
building at Fidenae, erected for the purpose of exhibiting public shows,
about twenty thousand persons were either greatly hurt, or crushed to
death in the rains.

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