The Annals by Tacitus Book IVThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 23-28

The year when Caius Asinius and Caius Antistius were consuls was the
ninth of Tiberius’s reign, a period of tranquillity for the State
and prosperity for his own house, for he counted Germanicus’s death
a happy incident. Suddenly fortune deranged everything; the emperor
became a cruel tyrant, as well as an abettor of cruelty in others.
Of this the cause and origin was Aelius Sejanus, commander of the
praetorian cohorts, of whose influence I have already spoken. I will
now fully describe his extraction, his character, and the daring wickedness
by which he grasped at power.

Born at Vulsinii, the son of Seius Strabo, a Roman knight, he attached
himself in his early youth to Caius Caesar, grandson of the Divine
Augustus, and the story went that he had sold his person to Apicius,
a rich debauchee. Soon afterwards he won the heart of Tiberius so
effectually by various artifices that the emperor, ever dark and mysterious
towards others, was with Sejanus alone careless and freespoken. It
was not through his craft, for it was by this very weapon that he
was overthrown; it was rather from heaven’s wrath against Rome, to
whose welfare his elevation and his fall were alike disastrous. He
had a body which could endure hardships, and a daring spirit. He was
one who screened himself, while he was attacking others; he was as
cringing as he was imperious; before the world he affected humility;
in his heart he lusted after supremacy, for the sake of which he sometimes
lavish and luxurious, but oftener energetic and watchful, qualities
quite as mischievous when hypocritically assumed for the attainment
of sovereignty.

He strengthened the hitherto moderate powers of his office by concentrating
the cohorts scattered throughout the capital into one camp, so that
they might all receive orders at the same moment, and that the sight
of their numbers and strength might give confidence to themselves,
while it would strike terror into the citizens. His pretexts were
the demoralisation incident to a dispersed soldiery, the greater effectiveness
of simultaneous action in the event of a sudden peril, and the stricter
discipline which would be insured by the establishment of an encampment
at a distance from the temptations of the city. As soon as the camp
was completed, he crept gradually into the affections of the soldiers
by mixing with them and addressing them by name, himself selecting
the centurions and tribunes. With the Senate too he sought to ingratiate
himself, distinguishing his partisans with offices and provinces,
Tiberius readily yielding, and being so biassed that not only in private
conversation but before the senators and the people he spoke highly
of him as the partner of his toils, and allowed his statues to be
honoured in theatres, in forums, and at the head-quarters of our legions.

There were however obstacles to his ambition in the imperial house
with its many princes, a son in youthful manhood and grown-up grandsons.
As it would be unsafe to sweep off such a number at once by violence,
while craft would necessitate successive intervals in crime, he chose,
on the whole, the stealthier way and to begin with Drusus, against
whom he had the stimulus of a recent resentment. Drusus, who could
not brook a rival and was somewhat irascible, had, in a casual dispute,
raised his fist at Sejanus, and, when he defended himself, had struck
him in the face. On considering every plan Sejanus thought his easiest
revenge was to turn his attention to Livia, Drusus’s wife. She was
a sister of Germanicus, and though she was not handsome as a girl,
she became a woman of surpassing beauty. Pretending an ardent passion
for her, he seduced her, and having won his first infamous triumph,
and assured that a woman after having parted with her virtue will
hesitate at nothing, he lured her on to thoughts of marriage, of a
share in sovereignty, and of her husband’s destruction. And she, the
niece of Augustus, the daughter-in-law of Tiberius, the mother of
children by Drusus, for a provincial paramour, foully disgraced herself,
her ancestors, and her descendants, giving up honour and a sure position
for prospects as base as they were uncertain. They took into their
confidence Eudemus, Livia’s friend and physician, whose profession
was a pretext for frequent secret interviews. Sejanus, to avert his
mistress’s jealousy, divorced his wife Apicata, by whom he had had
three children. Still the magnitude of the crime caused fear and delay,
and sometimes a conflict of plans.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of this year, Drusus, one of the children
of Germanicus, assumed the dress of manhood, with a repetition of
the honours decreed by the Senate to his brother Nero. The emperor
added a speech with warm praise of his son for sharing a father’s
affection to his brother’s children. Drusus indeed, difficult as it
is for power and mutual harmony to exist side by side, had the character
of being kindly disposed or at least not unfriendly towards the lads.
And now the old plan, so often insincerely broached, of a progress
through the provinces, was again discussed. The emperor’s pretext
was the number of veterans on the eve of discharge and the necessity
of fresh levies for the army. Volunteers were not forthcoming, and
even if they were sufficiently numerous, they had not the same bravery
and discipline, as it is chiefly the needy and the homeless who adopt
by their own choice a soldier’s life. Tiberius also rapidly enumerated
the legions and the provinces which they had to garrison. I too ought,
I think, to go through these details, and thus show what forces Rome
then had under arms, what kings were our allies, and how much narrower
then were the limits of our empire.

Italy on both seas was guarded by fleets, at Misenum and at Ravenna,
and the contiguous coast of Gaul by ships of war captured in the victory
of Actium, and sent by Augustus powerfully manned to the town of Forojulium.
But chief strength was on the Rhine, as a defence alike against Germans
and Gauls, and numbered eight legions. Spain, lately subjugated, was
held by three. Mauretania was king Juba’s, who had received it as
a gift from the Roman people. The rest of Africa was garrisoned by
two legions, and Egypt by the same number. Next, beginning with Syria,
all within the entire tract of country stretching as far as the Euphrates,
was kept in restraint by four legions, and on this frontier were Iberian,
Albanian, and other kings, to whom our greatness was a protection
against any foreign power. Thrace was held by Rhoemetalces and the
children of Cotys; the bank of the Danube by two legions in Pannonia,
two in Moesia, and two also were stationed in Dalmatia, which, from
the situation of the country, were in the rear of the other four,
and, should Italy suddenly require aid, not to distant to be summoned.
But the capital was garrisoned by its own special soldiery, three
city, nine praetorian cohorts, levied for the most part in Etruria
and Umbria, or ancient Latium and the old Roman colonies. There were
besides, in commanding positions in the provinces, allied fleets,
cavalry and light infantry, of but little inferior strength. But any
detailed account of them would be misleading, since they moved from
place to place as circumstances required, and had their numbers increased
and sometimes diminished.
The Annals by Tacitus