It is however, I think, a convenient opportunity for me to review
the hitherto prevailing methods of administration in the other departments
of the State, inasmuch as that year brought with it the beginning
of a change for the worse in Tiberius’s policy. In the first place,
public business and the most important private matters were managed
by the Senate: the leading men were allowed freedom of discussion,
and when they stooped to flattery, the emperor himself checked them.
He bestowed honours with regard to noble ancestry, military renown,
or brilliant accomplishments as a civilian, letting it be clearly
seen that there were no better men to choose. The consul and the praetor
retained their prestige; inferior magistrates exercised their authority;
the laws too, with the single exception of cases of treason, were
As to the duties on corn, the indirect taxes and other branches of
the public revenue, they were in the hands of companies of Roman knights.
The emperor intrusted his own property to men of the most tried integrity
or to persons known only by their general reputation, and once appointed
they were retained without any limitation, so that most of them grew
old in the same employments. The city populace indeed suffered much
from high prices, but this was no fault of the emperor, who actually
endeavoured to counteract barren soils and stormy seas with every
resource of wealth and foresight. And he was also careful not to distress
the provinces by new burdens, and to see that in bearing the old they
were safe from any rapacity or oppression on the part of governors.
Corporal punishments and confiscations of property were unknown.
The emperor had only a few estates in Italy, slaves on a moderate
scale, and his household was confined to a few freedmen. If ever he
had a dispute with a private person, it was decided in the law courts.
All this, not indeed with any graciousness, but in a blunt fashion
which often alarmed, he still kept up, until the death of Drusus changed
everything. While he lived, the system continued, because Sejanus,
as yet only in the beginning of his power, wished to be known as an
upright counsellor, and there was one whose vengeance he dreaded,
who did not conceal his hatred and incessantly complained “that a
stranger was invited to assist in the government while the emperor’s
son was alive. How near was the step of declaring the stranger a colleague!
Ambition at first had a steep path before it; when once the way had
been entered, zealous adherents were forthcoming. Already, at the
pleasure of the commander of the guards, a camp had been established;
the soldiers given into his hands; his statues were to be seen among
the monuments of Cneius Pompeius; his grandsons would be of the same
blood as the family of the Drusi. Henceforth they must pray that he
might have self-control, and so be contented.” So would Drusus talk,
not unfrequently, or only in the hearing of a few persons. Even his
confidences, now that his wife had been corrupted, were betrayed.
Sejanus accordingly thought that he must be prompt, and chose a poison
the gradual working of which might be mistaken for a natural disorder.
It was given to Drusus by Lygdus, a eunuch, as was ascertained eight
years later. As for Tiberius, he went to the Senate house during the
whole time of the prince’s illness, either because he was not afraid,
or to show his strength of mind, and even in the interval between
his death and funeral. Seeing the consuls, in token of their grief,
sitting on the ordinary benches, he reminded them of their high office
and of their proper place; and when the Senate burst into tears, suppressing
a groan, he revived their spirits with a fluent speech. “He knew indeed
that he might be reproached for thus encountering the gaze of the
Senate after so recent an affliction. Most mourners could hardly bear
even the soothing words of kinsfolk or to look on the light of day.
And such were not to be condemned as weak. But he had sought a more
manly consolation in the bosom of the commonwealth.”
Then deploring the extreme age of Augusta, the childhood of his grandsons,
and his own declining years, he begged the Senate to summon Germanicus’s
children, the only comfort under their present misery. The consuls
went out, and having encouraged the young princes with kind words,
brought them in and presented them to the emperor. Taking them by
the hand he said: “Senators, when these boys lost their father, I
committed them to their uncle, and begged him, though he had children
of his own, to cherish and rear them as his own offspring, and train
them for himself and for posterity. Drusus is now lost to us, and
I turn my prayers to you, and before heaven and your country I adjure
you to receive into your care and guidance the great-grandsons of
Augustus, descendants of a most noble ancestry. So fulfil your duty
and mine. To you, Nero and Drusus, these senators are as fathers.
Such is your birth that your prosperity and adversity must alike affect
There was great weeping at these words, and then many a benediction.
Had the emperor set bounds to his speech, he must have filled the
hearts of his hearers with sympathy and admiration. But he now fell
back on those idle and often ridiculed professions about restoring
the republic, and the wish that the consuls or some one else might
undertake the government, and thus destroyed belief even in what was
genuine and noble.
The Annals by Tacitus