The Annals by Tacitus - book XIIThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 48-54

The destruction of Messalina shook the imperial house; for a strife
arose among the freedmen, who should choose a wife for Claudius, impatient
as he was of a single life and submissive to the rule of wives. The
ladies were fired with no less jealousy. Each insisted on her rank,
beauty, and fortune, and pointed to her claims to such a marriage.
But the keenest competition was between Lollia Paulina, the daughter
of Marcus Lollius, an ex-consul, and Julia Agrippina, the daughter
of Germanicus. Callistus favoured the first, Pallas the second. Aelia
Paetina however, of the family of the Tuberones, had the support of
Narcissus. The emperor, who inclined now one way, now another, as
he listened to this or that adviser, summoned the disputants to a
conference and bade them express their opinions and give their reasons.

Narcissus dwelt on the marriage of years gone by, on the tie of offspring,
for Paetina was the mother of Antonia, and on the advantage of excluding
a new element from his household, by the return of a wife to whom
he was accustomed, and who would assuredly not look with a stepmother’s
animosity on Britannicus and Octavia, who were next in her affections
to her own children. Callistus argued that she was compromised by
her long separation, and that were she to be taken back, she would
be supercilious on the strength of it. It would be far better to introduce
Lollia, for, as she had no children of her own, she would be free
from jealousy, and would take the place of a mother towards her stepchildren.

Pallas again selected Agrippina for special commendation because she
would bring with her Germanicus’s grandson, who was thoroughly worthy
of imperial rank, the scion of a noble house and a link to unite the
descendants of the Claudian family. He hoped that a woman who was
the mother of many children and still in the freshness of youth, would
not carry off the grandeur of the Caesars to some other house.

This advice prevailed, backed up as it was by Agrippina’s charms.
On the pretext of her relationship, she paid frequent visits to her
uncle, and so won his heart, that she was preferred to the others,
and, though not yet his wife, already possessed a wife’s power. For
as soon as she was sure of her marriage, she began to aim at greater
things, and planned an alliance between Domitius, her son by Cneius
Aenobarbus, and Octavia, the emperor’s daughter. This could not be
accomplished without a crime, for the emperor had betrothed Octavia
to Lucius Silanus, a young man otherwise famous, whom he had brought
forward as a candidate for popular favour by the honour of triumphal
distinctions and by a magnificent gladiatorial show. But no difficulty
seemed to be presented by the temper of a sovereign who had neither
partialities nor dislikes, but such as were suggested and dictated
to him.

Vitellius accordingly, who used the name of censor to screen a slave’s
trickeries, and looked forward to new despotisms, already impending,
associated himself in Agrippina’s plans, with a view to her favour,
and began to bring charges against Silanus, whose sister, Junia Calvina,
a handsome and lively girl, had shortly before become his daughter-in-law.
Here was a starting point for an accuser. Vitellius put an infamous
construction on the somewhat incautious though not criminal love between
the brother and sister. The emperor listened, for his affection for
his daughter inclined him the more to admit suspicions against his
son-in-law. Silanus meanwhile, who knew nothing of the plot, and happened
that year to be praetor, was suddenly expelled from the Senate by
an edict of Vitellius, though the roll of Senators had been recently
reviewed and the lustrum closed. Claudius at the same time broke off
the connection; Silanus was forced to resign his office, and the one
remaining day of his praetorship was conferred on Eprius Marcellus.

In the year of the consulship of Caius Pompeius and Quintus Veranius,
the marriage arranged between Claudius and Agrippina was confirmed
both by popular rumour and by their own illicit love. Still, they
did not yet dare to celebrate the nuptials in due form, for there
was no precedent for the introduction of a niece into an uncle’s house.
It was positively incest, and if disregarded, it would, people feared,
issue in calamity to the State. These scruples ceased not till Vitellius
undertook the management of the matter in his own way. He asked the
emperor whether he would yield to the recommendations of the people
and to the authority of the Senate. When Claudius replied that he
was one among the citizens and could not resist their unanimous voice,
Vitellius requested him to wait in the palace, while he himself went
to the Senate. Protesting that the supreme interest of the commonwealth
was at stake, he begged to be allowed to speak first, and then began
to urge that the very burdensome labours of the emperor in a world-wide
administration, required assistance, so that, free from domestic cares,
he might consult the public welfare. How again could there be a more
virtuous relief for the mind of an imperial censor than the taking
of a wife to share his prosperity and his troubles, to whom he might
intrust his inmost thoughts and the care of his young children, unused
as he was to luxury and pleasure, and wont from his earliest youth
to obey the laws.
The Annals by Tacitus