Silius had a wife, Sosia Galla, whose love of Agrippina made her hateful
to the emperor. The two, it was decided, were to be attacked, but
Sabinus was to be put off for a time. Varro, the consul, was let loose
on them, who, under colour of a hereditary feud, humoured the malignity
of Sejanus to his own disgrace. The accused begged a brief respite,
until the prosecutor’s consulship expired, but the emperor opposed
the request. “It was usual,” he argued, “for magistrates to bring
a private citizen to trial, and a consul’s authority ought not to
be impaired, seeing that it rested with his vigilance to guard the
commonwealth from loss.” It was characteristic of Tiberius to veil
new devices in wickedness under ancient names. And so, with a solemn
appeal, he summoned the Senate, as if there were any laws by which
Silius was being tried, as if Varro were a real consul, or Rome a
commonwealth. The accused either said nothing, or, if he attempted
to defend himself, hinted, not obscurely, at the person whose resentment
was crushing him. A long concealed complicity in Sacrovir’s rebellion,
a rapacity which sullied his victory, and his wife Sosia’s conduct,
were alleged against him. Unquestionably, they could not extricate
themselves from the charge of extortion. The whole affair however
was conducted as a trial for treason, and Silius forestalled impending
doom by a self-inflicted death.
Yet there was a merciless confiscation of his property, though not
to refund their money to the provincials, none of whom pressed any
demand. But Augustus’s bounty was wrested from him, and the claims
of the imperial exchequer were computed in detail. This was the first
instance on Tiberius’s part of sharp dealing with the wealth of others.
Sosia was banished on the motion of Asinius Gallus, who had proposed
that half her estate should be confiscated, half left to the children.
Marcus Lepidus, on the contrary, was for giving a fourth to the prosecutors,
as the law required, and the remainder to the children.
This Lepidus, I am satisfied, was for that age a wise and high-principled
man. Many a cruel suggestion made by the flattery of others he changed
for the better, and yet he did not want tact, seeing that he always
enjoyed an uniform prestige, and also the favour of Tiberius. This
compels me to doubt whether the liking of princes for some men and
their antipathy to others depend, like other contingencies, on a fate
and destiny to which we are born, or, to some degree, on our own plans;
so that it is possible to pursue a course between a defiant independence
and a debasing servility, free from ambition and its perils. Messalinus
Cotta, of equally illustrious ancestry as Lepidus, but wholly different
in disposition, proposed that the Senate should pass a decree providing
that even innocent governors who knew nothing of the delinquencies
of others should be punished for their wives’ offences in the provinces
as much as for their own.
Proceedings were then taken against Calpurnius Piso, a high-spirited
nobleman. He it was, as I have related, who had exclaimed more than
once in the Senate that he would quit Rome because of the combinations
of the informers, and had dared in defiance of Augusta’s power, to
sue Urgulania and summon her from the emperor’s palace. Tiberius submitted
to this at the time not ungraciously, but the remembrance of it was
vividly impressed on a mind which brooded over its resentments, even
though the first impulse of his displeasure had subsided.
Quintus Granius accused Piso of secret treasonable conversation, and
added that he kept poison in his house and wore a dagger whenever
he came into the Senate. This was passed over as too atrocious to
be true. He was to be tried on the other charges, a multitude of which
were heaped on him, but his timely death cut short the trial.
Next was taken the case of Cassius Severus’ an exile. A man of mean
origin and a life of crime, but a powerful pleader, he had brought
on himself, by his persistent quarrelsomeness, a decision of the Senate,
under oath, which banished him to Crete. There by the same practices
he drew on himself, fresh odium and revived the old; stripped of his
property and outlawed, he wore out his old age on the rock of Seriphos.
The Annals by Tacitus