It happened at this time that a perilous accident which occurred to
the emperor strengthened vague rumours and gave him grounds for trusting
more fully in the friendship and fidelity of Sejanus. They were dining
in a country house called “The Cave,” between the gulf of Amuclae
and the hills of Fundi, in a natural grotto. The rocks at its entrance
suddenly fell in and crushed some of the attendants; there upon panic
seized the whole company and there was a general flight of the guests.
Sejanus hung over the emperor, and with knee, face, and hand encountered
the falling stones; and was found in this attitude by the soldiers
who came to their rescue. After this he was greater than ever, and
though his counsels were ruinous, he was listened to with confidence,
as a man who had no care for himself. He pretended to act as a judge
towards the children of Germanicus, after having suborned persons
to assume the part of prosecutors and to inveigh specially against
Nero, next in succession to the throne, who, though he had proper
youthful modesty, often forgot present expediency, while freedmen
and clients, eager to get power, incited him to display vigour and
self-confidence. “This,” they said, “was what the Roman people wished,
what the armies desired, and Sejanus would not dare to oppose it,
though now he insulted alike the tame spirit of the old emperor and
the timidity of the young prince.”

Nero, while he listened to this and like talk, was not indeed inspired
with any guilty ambition, but still occasionally there would break
from him wilful and thoughtless expressions which spies about his
person caught up and reported with exaggeration, and this he had no
opportunity of rebutting. Then again alarms under various forms were
continually arising. One man would avoid meeting him; another after
returning his salutation would instantly turn away; many after beginning
a conversation would instantly break it off, while Sejanus’s friends
would stand their ground and laugh at him. Tiberius indeed wore an
angry frown or a treacherous smile. Whether the young prince spoke
or held his tongue, silence and speech were alike criminal. Every
night had its anxieties, for his sleepless hours, his dreams and sighs
were all made known by his wife to her mother Livia and by Livia to
Sejanus. Nero’s brother Drusus Sejanus actually drew into his scheme
by holding out to him the prospect of becoming emperor through the
removal of an elder brother, already all but fallen. The savage temper
of Drusus, to say nothing of lust of power and the usual feuds between
brothers, was inflamed with envy by the partiality of the mother Agrippina
towards Nero. And yet Sejanus, while he favoured Drusus, was not without
thoughts of sowing the seeds of his future ruin, well knowing how
very impetuous he was and therefore the more exposed to treachery.

Towards the close of the year died two distinguished men, Asinius
Agrippa and Quintus Haterius. Agrippa was of illustrious rather than
ancient ancestry, which his career did not disgrace; Haterius was
of a senatorian family and famous for his eloquence while he lived,
though the monuments which remain of his genius are not admired as
of old. The truth is he succeeded more by vehemence than by finish
of style. While the research and labours of other authors are valued
by an after age, the harmonious fluency of Haterius died with him.

In the year of the consulship of Marcus Licinius and Lucius Calpurnius,
the losses of a great war were matched by an unexpected disaster,
no sooner begun than ended. One Atilius, of the freedman class, having
undertaken to build an amphitheatre at Fidena for the exhibition of
a show of gladiators, failed to lay a solid foundation to frame the
wooden superstructure with beams of sufficient strength; for he had
neither an abundance of wealth, nor zeal for public popularity, but
he had simply sought the work for sordid gain. Thither flocked all
who loved such sights and who during the reign of Tiberius had been
wholly debarred from such amusements; men and women of every age crowding
to the place because it was near Rome. And so the calamity was all
the more fatal. The building was densely crowded; then came a violent
shock, as it fell inwards or spread outwards, precipitating and burying
an immense multitude which was intently gazing on the show or standing
round. Those who were crushed to death in the first moment of the
accident had at least under such dreadful circumstances the advantage
of escaping torture. More to be pitied were they who with limbs torn
from them still retained life, while they recognised their wives and
children by seeing them during the day and by hearing in the night
their screams and groans. Soon all the neighbours in their excitement
at the report were bewailing brothers, kinsmen or parents. Even those
whose friends or relatives were away from home for quite a different
reason, still trembled for them, and as it was not yet known who had
been destroyed by the crash, suspense made the alarm more widespread.

As soon as they began to remove the debris, there was a rush to see
the lifeless forms and much embracing and kissing. Often a dispute
would arise, when some distorted face, bearing however a general resemblance
of form and age, had baffled their efforts at recognition. Fifty thousand
persons were maimed or destroyed in this disaster. For the future
it was provided by a decree of the Senate that no one was to exhibit
a show of gladiators, whose fortune fell short of four hundred thousand
sesterces, and that no amphitheatre was to be erected except on a
foundation, the solidity of which had been examined. Atilius was banished.
At the moment of the calamity the nobles threw open houses and supplied
indiscriminately medicines and physicians, so that Rome then, notwithstanding
her sorrowful aspect, wore a likeness to the manners of our forefathers
who after a great battle always relieved the wounded with their bounty
and attentions.

This disaster was not forgotten when a furious conflagration damaged
the capital to an unusual extent, reducing Mount Caelius to ashes.
“It was an ill-starred year,” people began to say, “and the emperor’s
purpose of leaving Rome must have been formed under evil omens.” They
began in vulgar fashion to trace ill-luck to guilt, when Tiberius
checked them by distributing money in proportion to losses sustained.
He received a vote of thanks in the Senate from its distinguished
members, and was applauded by the populace for having assisted with
his liberality, without partiality or the solicitations of friends,
strangers whom he had himself sought out. And proposals were also
made that Mount Caelius should for the future be called Mount Augustus,
inasmuch as when all around was in flames only a single statue of
Tiberius in the house of one Junius, a senator, had remained uninjured.
This, it was said, had formerly happened to Claudia Quinta; her statue,
which had twice escaped the violence of fire, had been dedicated by
our ancestors in the temple of the Mother of Gods; hence the Claudii
had been accounted sacred and numbered among deities, and so additional
sanctity ought to be given to a spot where heaven showed such honour
to the emperor.
The Annals by Tacitus