The Annals by Tacitus Book VThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

BOOK V

A.D. 29-31

In the consulship of Rubellius and Fufius, both of whom had the surname
Geminus, died in an advanced old age Julia Augusta. A Claudia by birth
and by adoption a Livia and a Julia, she united the noblest blood
of Rome. Her first marriage, by which she had children, was with Tiberius
Nero, who, an exile during the Perusian war, returned to Rome when
peace had been concluded between Sextus Pompeius and the triumvirs.
After this Caesar, enamoured of her beauty, took her away from her
husband, whether against her wish is uncertain. So impatient was he
that he brought her to his house actually pregnant, not allowing time
for her confinement. She had no subsequent issue, but allied as she
was through the marriage of Agrippina and Germanicus to the blood
of Augustus, her great-grandchildren were also his. In the purity
of her home life she was of the ancient type, but was more gracious
than was thought fitting in ladies of former days. An imperious mother
and an amiable wife, she was a match for the diplomacy of her husband
and the dissimulation of her son. Her funeral was simple, and her
will long remained unexecuted. Her panegyric was pronounced from the
Rostra by her great-grandson, Caius Caesar, who afterwards succeeded
to power.

Tiberius however, making no change in his voluptuous life, excused
himself by letter for his absence from his last duty to his mother
on the ground of the pressure of business. He even abridged, out of
moderation, as it seemed, the honours which the Senate had voted on
a lavish scale to her memory, allowing only a very few, and adding
that no religious worship was to be decreed, this having been her
own wish. In a part of the same letter he sneered at female friendships,
with an indirect censure on the consul Fufius, who had risen to distinction
through Augusta’s partiality. Fufius was indeed a man well fitted
to win the affection of a woman; he was witty too, and accustomed
to ridicule Tiberius with those bitter jests which the powerful remember
so long.

This at all events was the beginning of an unmitigated and grinding
despotism. As long indeed as Augusta lived, there yet remained a refuge,
for with Tiberius obedience to his mother was the habit of a life,
and Sejanus did not dare to set himself above a parent’s authority.
Now, so to say, they threw off the reins and let loose their fury.
A letter was sent, directed against Agrippina and Nero, which was
popularly believed to have been long before forwarded and to have
been kept back by Augusta, as it was publicly read soon after her
death. It contained expressions of studied harshness, yet it was not
armed rebellion or a longing for revolution, but unnatural passions
and profligacy which the emperor imputed to his grandson. Against
his daughter-in-law he did not dare to invent this much; he merely
censured her insolent tongue and defiant spirit, amid the panic-stricken
silence of the Senate, till a few who had no hope from merit (and
public calamities are ever used by individuals for interested purposes)
demanded that the question should be debated. The most eager was Cotta
Messalinus, who made a savage speech. Still, the other principal senators,
and especially the magistrates, were perplexed, for Tiberius, notwithstanding
his furious invective, had left everything else in doubt.

There was in the Senate one Junius Rusticus, who having been appointed
by the emperor to register its debates was therefore supposed to have
an insight into his secret purposes. This man, whether through some
fatal impulse (he had indeed never before given any evidence of courage)
or a misdirected acuteness which made him tremble at the uncertain
future, while he forgot impending perils, attached himself to the
waverers, and warned the consuls not to enter on the debate. He argued
that the highest issues turned on trivial causes, and that the fall
of the house of Germanicus might one day move the old man’s remorse.
At the same moment the people, bearing the images of Agrippina and
Nero, thronged round the Senate-house, and, with words of blessing
on the emperor, kept shouting that the letter was a forgery and that
it was not by the prince’s will that ruin was being plotted against
his house. And so that day passed without any dreadful result.

Fictitious speeches too against Sejanus were published under the names
of ex-consuls, for several persons indulged, all the more recklessly
because anonymously, the caprice of their imaginations. Consequently
the wrath of Sejanus was the more furious, and he had ground for alleging
that the Senate disregarded the emperor’s trouble; that the people
were in revolt; that speeches in a new style and new resolutions were
being heard and read. What remained but to take the sword and chose
for their generals and emperors those whose images they had followed
as standards.

Upon this the emperor, after repeating his invectives against his
grandson and his daughter-in-law and reprimanding the populace in
an edict complained to the Senate that by the trick of one senator
the imperial dignity had been publicly flouted, and he insisted that,
after all, the whole matter should be left to his exclusive decision.
Without further deliberation, they proceeded, not indeed to pronounce
the final sentence (for this was forbidden), but to declare that they
were prepared for vengeance, and were restrained only by the strong
hand of the sovereign.
The Annals by Tacitus