The Annals by Tacitus book 1

The Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 14, 15


Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship
were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary
crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years,
nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long
duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of
Pompeius and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus
and Antonius before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil
strife, subjected it to empire under the title of “Prince.” But the
successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded
by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe
the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The
histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were
in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were
written under the irritation of a recent hatred. Hence my purpose
is to relate a few facts about Augustus- more particularly his last
acts, then the reign of Tiberius, and all which follows, without either
bitterness or partiality, from any motives to which I am far removed.

When after the destruction of Brutus and Cassius there was no longer
any army of the Commonwealth, when Pompeius was crushed in Sicily,
and when, with Lepidus pushed aside and Antonius slain, even the Julian
faction had only Caesar left to lead it, then, dropping the title
of triumvir, and giving out that he was a Consul, and was satisfied
with a tribune’s authority for the protection of the people, Augustus
won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and
all men with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees,
while he concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the
magistrates, and the laws. He was wholly unopposed, for the boldest
spirits had fallen in battle, or in the proscription, while the remaining
nobles, the readier they were to be slaves, were raised the higher
by wealth and promotion, so that, aggrandised by revolution, they
preferred the safety of the present to the dangerous past. Nor did
the provinces dislike that condition of affairs, for they distrusted
the government of the Senate and the people, because of the rivalries
between the leading men and the rapacity of the officials, while the
protection of the laws was unavailing, as they were continually deranged
by violence, intrigue, and finally by corruption.

Augustus meanwhile, as supports to his despotism, raised to the pontificate
and curule aedileship Claudius Marcellus, his sister’s son, while
a mere stripling, and Marcus Agrippa, of humble birth, a good soldier,
and one who had shared his victory, to two consecutive consulships,
and as Marcellus soon afterwards died, he also accepted him as his
son-in-law. Tiberius Nero and Claudius Drusus, his stepsons, he honoured
with imperial tides, although his own family was as yet undiminished.
For he had admitted the children of Agrippa, Caius and Lucius, into
the house of the Caesars; and before they had yet laid aside the dress
of boyhood he had most fervently desired, with an outward show of
reluctance, that they should be entitled “princes of the youth,” and
be consuls-elect. When Agrippa died, and Lucius Caesar as he was on
his way to our armies in Spain, and Caius while returning from Armenia,
still suffering from a wound, were prematurely cut off by destiny,
or by their step-mother Livia’s treachery, Drusus too having long
been dead, Nero remained alone of the stepsons, and in him everything
tended to centre. He was adopted as a son, as a colleague in empire
and a partner in the tribunitian power, and paraded through all the
armies, no longer through his mother’s secret intrigues, but at her
open suggestion. For she had gained such a hold on the aged Augustus
that he drove out as an exile into the island of Planasia, his only
grandson, Agrippa Postumus, who, though devoid of worthy qualities,
and having only the brute courage of physical strength, had not been
convicted of any gross offence. And yet Augustus had appointed Germanicus,
Drusus’s offspring, to the command of eight legions on the Rhine,
and required Tiberius to adopt him, although Tiberius had a son, now
a young man, in his house; but he did it that he might have several
safeguards to rest on. He had no war at the time on his hands except
against the Germans, which was rather to wipe out the disgrace of
the loss of Quintilius Varus and his army than out of an ambition
to extend the empire, or for any adequate recompense. At home all
was tranquil, and there were magistrates with the same titles; there
was a younger generation, sprung up since the victory of Actium, and
even many of the older men had been born during the civil wars. How
few were left who had seen the republic!

Thus the State had been revolutionised, and there was not a vestige
left of the old sound morality. Stript of equality, all looked up
to the commands of a sovereign without the least apprehension for
the present, while Augustus in the vigour of life, could maintain
his own position, that of his house, and the general tranquillity.
When in advanced old age, he was worn out by a sickly frame, and the
end was near and new prospects opened, a few spoke in vain of the
blessings of freedom, but most people dreaded and some longed for
war. The popular gossip of the large majority fastened itself variously
on their future masters. “Agrippa was savage, and had been exasperated
by insult, and neither from age nor experience in affairs was equal
to so great a burden. Tiberius Nero was of mature years, and had established
his fame in war, but he had the old arrogance inbred in the Claudian
family, and many symptoms of a cruel temper, though they were repressed,
now and then broke out. He had also from earliest infancy been reared
in an imperial house; consulships and triumphs had been heaped on
him in his younger days; even in the years which, on the pretext of
seclusion he spent in exile at Rhodes, he had had no thoughts but
of wrath, hypocrisy, and secret sensuality. There was his mother too
with a woman caprice. They must, it seemed, be subject to a female
and to two striplings besides, who for a while would burden, and some
day rend asunder the State.”

While these and like topics were discussed, the infirmities of Augustus
increased, and some suspected guilt on his wife’s part. For a rumour
had gone abroad that a few months before he had sailed to Planasia
on a visit to Agrippa, with the knowledge of some chosen friends,
and with one companion, Fabius Maximus; that many tears were shed
on both sides, with expressions of affection, and that thus there
was a hope of the young man being restored to the home of his grandfather.
This, it was said, Maximus had divulged to his wife Marcia, she again
to Livia. All was known to Caesar, and when Maximus soon afterwards
died, by a death some thought to be self-inflicted, there were heard
at his funeral wailings from Marcia, in which she reproached herself
for having been the cause of her husband’s destruction. Whatever the
fact was, Tiberius as he was just entering Illyria was summoned home
by an urgent letter from his mother, and it has not been thoroughly
ascertained whether at the city of Nola he found Augustus still breathing
or quite lifeless. For Livia had surrounded the house and its approaches
with a strict watch, and favourable bulletins were published from
time to time, till, provision having been made for the demands of
the crisis, one and the same report told men that Augustus was dead
and that Tiberius Nero was master of the State.
The Annals by Tacitus