The Annals by Tacitus Book IIIThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 20-22

Without pausing in her winter voyage Agrippina arrived at the island
of Corcyra, facing the shores of Calabria. There she spent a few days
to compose her mind, for she was wild with grief and knew not how
to endure. Meanwhile on hearing of her arrival, all her intimate friends
and several officers, every one indeed who had served under Germanicus,
many strangers too from the neighbouring towns, some thinking it respectful
to the emperor, and still more following their example, thronged eagerly
to Brundisium, the nearest and safest landing place for a voyager.

As soon as the fleet was seen on the horizon, not only the harbour
and the adjacent shores, but the city walls too and the roofs and
every place which commanded the most distant prospect were filled
with crowds of mourners, who incessantly asked one another, whether,
when she landed, they were to receive her in silence or with some
utterance of emotion. They were not agreed on what befitted the occasion
when the fleet slowly approached, its crew, not joyous as is usual,
but wearing all a studied expression of grief. When Agrippina descended
from the vessel with her two children, clasping the funeral urn, with
eyes riveted to the earth, there was one universal groan. You could
not distinguish kinsfolk from strangers, or the laments of men from
those of women; only the attendants of Agrippina, worn out as they
were by long sorrow, were surpassed by the mourners who now met them,
fresh in their grief.

The emperor had despatched two praetorian cohorts with instructions
that the magistrates of Calabria, Apulia, and Campania were to pay
the last honours to his son’s memory. Accordingly tribunes and centurions
bore Germanicus’s ashes on their shoulders. They were preceded by
the standards unadorned and the faces reversed. As they passed colony
after colony, the populace in black, the knights in their state robes,
burnt vestments and perfumes with other usual funeral adjuncts, in
proportion to the wealth of the place. Even those whose towns were
out of the route, met the mourners, offered victims and built altars
to the dead, testifying their grief by tears and wailings. Drusus
went as far as Tarracina with Claudius, brother of Germanicus, and
had been at Rome. Marcus Valerius and Caius Aurelius, the consuls,
who had already entered on office, and a great number of the people
thronged the road in scattered groups, every one weeping as he felt
inclined. Flattery there was none, for all knew that Tiberius could
scarcely dissemble his joy at the death of Germanicus.

Tiberius Augusta refrained from showing themselves, thinking it below
their dignity to shed tears in public, or else fearing that, if all
eyes scrutinised their faces, their hypocrisy would be revealed. I
do not find in any historian or in the daily register that Antonia,
Germanicus’s mother, rendered any conspicuous honour to the deceased,
though besides Agrippina, Drusus, and Claudius, all his other kinsfolk
are mentioned by name. She may either have been hindered by illness,
or with a spirit overpowered by grief she may not have had the heart
to endure the sight of so great an affliction. But I can more easily
believe that Tiberius and Augusta, who did not leave the palace, kept
her within, that their sorrow might seem equal to hers, and that the
grandmother and uncle might be thought to follow the mother’s example
in staying at home.

The day on which the remains were consigned to the tomb of Augustus,
was now desolate in its silence, now distracted by lamentations. The
streets of the city were crowded; torches were blazing throughout
the Campus Martius. There the soldiers under arms, the magistrates
without their symbols of office, the people in the tribes, were all
incessantly exclaiming that the commonwealth was ruined, that not
a hope remained, too boldly and openly to let one think that they
remembered their rulers. But nothing impressed Tiberius more deeply
than the enthusiasm kindled in favor of Agrippina, whom men spoke
of as the glory of the country, the sole surviving off spring of Augustus,
the solitary example of the old times, while looking up to heaven
and the gods they prayed for the safety of her children and that they
might outlive their oppressors.

Some there were who missed the grandeur of a state-funeral, and contrasted
the splendid honours conferred by Augustus on Drusus, the father of
Germanicus. “Then the emperor himself,” they said, “went in the extreme
rigour of winter as far as Ticinum, and never leaving the corpse entered
Rome with it. Round the funeral bier were ranged the images of the
Claudii and the Julii; there was weeping in the forum, and a panegyric
before the rostra; every honour devised by our ancestors or invented
by their descendants was heaped on him. But as for Germanicus, even
the customary distinctions due to any noble had not fallen to his
lot. Granting that his body, because of the distance of tie journey,
was burnt in any fashion in foreign lands, still all the more honours
ought to have been afterwards paid him, because at first chance had
denied them. His brother had gone but one day’s journey to meet him;
his uncle, not even to the city gates. Where were all those usages
of the past, the image at the head of the bier, the lays composed
in commemoration of worth, the eulogies and laments, or at least the
semblance of grief?”
The Annals by Tacitus