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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals

of
Tacitus

published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1931

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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I.16‑30

(Vol. III) Tacitus
Annals

p243p243 Book I (beginning)

1 1 Rome at the outset was a city state under the government of kings: liberty and the consulate were institutions of Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were always a temporary expedient: the decemviral office was dead within two years, nor was the consular authority of the military tribunes long-lived. Neither Cinna nor Sulla created a lasting despotism: Pompey and Crassus quickly forfeited their power to Caesar, and Lepidus and Antony their swords to Augustus, who, under the style of "Prince,"1 gathered beneath his empire a world outworn by civil broils.2 But, while the glories and disasters of the old Roman commonwealth have been chronicled by famous pens, and intellects of distinction were not lacking to tell the tale of the Augustan age, until the rising tide of sycophancy deterred them, the histories of Tiberius and Caligula, of Claudius and Nero, were falsified p245through cowardice while they flourished, and composed, when they fell, under the influence of still rankling hatreds. Hence my design, to treat a small part (the concluding one) of Augustus' reign, then the principate of Tiberius and its sequel, without anger and without partiality, from the motives of which I stand sufficiently removed.

2 1 When the killing of Brutus and Cassius had disarmed the Republic; when Pompey had been crushed in Sicily,3 and, with Lepidus thrown aside and Antony slain, even the Julian party was leaderless but for the Caesar; after laying down his triumviral title and proclaiming himself a simple consul content with tribunician authority to safeguard the commons, he first conciliated the army by gratuities, the populace by cheapened corn,º the world by the amenities of peace, then step by step began to make his ascent and to unite in his own person the functions of the senate, the magistracy, and the legislature. Opposition there was none: the boldest spirits had succumbed on stricken fields or by proscription-lists; while the rest of the nobility found a cheerful acceptance of slavery the smoothest road to wealth and office, and, as they had thriven on revolution, stood now for the new order and safety in preference to the old order and adventure. Nor was the state of affairs unpopular in the provinces, where administration by the Senate and People had been discredited by the feuds of the magnates and the greed of the officials, against which there was but frail protection in a legal system for ever deranged by force, by favouritism, or (in the last resort) by gold.

3 1 Meanwhile, to consolidate his power, Augustus raised Claudius Marcellus,4 his sister's son and a mere p247stripling, to the pontificate and curule aedileship: Marcus Agrippa, no aristocrat, but a good soldier and his partner in victory, he honoured with two successive consulates, and a little later, on the death of Marcellus, selected him as a son-in‑law. Each of his step-children, Tiberius Nero and Claudius Drusus, was given the title of Imperator, though his family proper was still intact: for he had admitted Agrippa's children, Gaius and Lucius, to the Caesarian hearth, and even during their minority had shown, under a veil of reluctance, a consuming desire to see them consuls designate with the title Princes of the Youth. When Agrippa gave up the ghost, untimely fate, or the treachery of their stepmother Livia, cut off both Lucius and Caiusº Caesar, Lucius on his road to the Spanish armies, Caiusº — wounded and sick — on his return from Armenia. Drusus had long been dead, and of the stepsons Nero survived alone. On him all centred. Adopted as son, as colleague in the empire, as consort of the tribunician power, he was paraded through all the armies, not as before by the secret diplomacy of his mother, but openly at her injunction. For so firmly had she riveted her chains upon the aged Augustus that he banished to the isle of Planasia5 his one remaining grandson, Agrippa Postumus, who though guiltless of a virtue, and confident brute-like in his physical strength, had been convicted of no open scandal. Yet, curiously enough, he placed Drusus' son Germanicus at the head of eight legions on the Rhine, and ordered Tiberius to adopt him: it was one safeguard the more, even though Tiberius had already an adult son under his roof.

War at the time was none, except an outstanding p249campaign against the Germans, waged more to redeem the prestige lost with Quintilius Varus6 and his army than from any wish to extend the empire or with any prospect of an adequate recompense. At home all was calm. The officials carried the old names; the younger men had been born after the victory of Actium; most even of the elder generation, during the civil wars; few indeed were left who had seen the Republic.

4 1 It was thus an altered world, and of the old, unspoilt Roman character not a trace lingered. Equality was an outworn creed, and all eyes looked to the mandate of the sovereign — with no immediate misgivings, so long as Augustus in the full vigour of his prime upheld himself, his house, and peace. But when the wearing effects of bodily sickness added themselves to advancing years, and the end was coming and new hopes dawning, a few voices began idly to discuss the blessings of freedom; more were apprehensive of war; others desired it; the great majority merely exchanged gossip derogatory to their future masters:— "Agrippa, fierce-tempered, and hot from his humiliation, was unfitted by age and experience for so heavy a burden. Tiberius Nero was mature in years and tried in war, but had the old, inbred arrogance of the Claudian family, and hints of cruelty, strive as he would to repress them, kept breaking out. He had been reared from the cradle in a regnant house; consulates and triumphs had been heaped on his youthful head: even during the years when he lived at Rhodes in ostensible retirement and actual exile, he had studied nothing save anger, hypocrisy, and secret lasciviousness. Add to the tale his mother with her feminine p251caprice: they must be slaves, it appeared, to the distaff, and to a pair of striplings as well, who in the interval would oppress the state and in the upshot rend it asunder!"

5 1 While these topics and the like were under discussion, the malady of Augustus began to take a graver turn; and some suspected foul play on the part of his wife. For a rumour had gone the round that, a few months earlier, the emperor, confiding in a chosen few, and attended only by Fabius Maximus, had sailed for Planasia on a visit to Agrippa. "There tears and signs of affection on both sides had been plentiful enough to raise a hope that the youth might yet be restored to the house of his grandfather. Maximus had disclosed the incident to his wife Marcia; Marcia, to Livia. It had come to the Caesar's knowledge; and after the death of Maximus, which followed shortly, possibly by his own hand, Marcia had been heard at the funeral, sobbing and reproaching herself as the cause of her husband's destruction." Whatever the truth of the affair, Tiberius had hardly set foot in Illyricum, when he was recalled by an urgent letter from his mother; and it is not certainly known whether on reaching the town of Nola, he found Augustus still breathing or lifeless. For house and street were jealously guarded by Livia's ring of pickets, while sanguine notices were issued at intervals, until the measures dictated by the crisis had been taken: then one report announced simultaneously that Augustus had passed away and that Nero was master of the empire.7

6 1 The opening crime of the new principate was the murder of Agrippa Postumus; who, though off his guard and without weapons, was with difficulty dispatched p253by a resolute centurion. In the senate Tiberius made no reference to the subject: his pretence was an order from his father, instructing the tribune in charge to lose no time in making away with his prisoner, once he himself should have looked his last on the world. It was beyond question that by his frequent and bitter strictures on the youth's character Augustus had procured the senatorial decree for his exile: on the other hand, at no time did he harden his heart to the killing of a relative, and it remained incredible that he should have sacrificed the life of a grandchild in order to diminish the anxieties of a stepson. More probably, Tiberius and Livia, actuated in the one case by fear, and in the other by stepmotherly dislike, hurriedly procured the murder of a youth whom they suspected and detested. To the centurion who brought the usual military report, the emperor rejoined that he had given no instructions and the deed would have to be accounted for in the senate. The remark came to the ears of Sallustius Crispus.8 A partner in the imperial secrets — it was he who had forwarded the note to the tribune — he feared the charge might be fastened on himself, with the risks equally great whether he spoke the truth or lied. He therefore advised Livia not to publish the mysteries of the palace, the counsels of her friends, the services of the soldiery; and also to watch that Tiberius did not weaken the powers of the throne by referring everything and all things to the senate:— "It was a condition of sovereignty that the account balanced only if rendered to a single auditor."9

7 1 At Rome, however, consuls, senators, and p255knights were rushing into slavery. The more exalted the personage, the grosser his hypocrisy and his haste, — his lineaments adjusted so as to betray neither cheerfulness at the exit nor undue depression at the entry of a prince; his tears blent with joy, his regrets with adulation. The consuls, Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius, first took the oath of allegiance to Tiberius Caesar. It was taken in their presence by Seius Strabo and Caius Turranius, chiefs respectively of the praetorian cohorts and the corn department. The senators, the soldiers, and the populace followed. For in every action of Tiberius the first step had to be taken by the consuls, as though the old republic were in being, and himself undecided whether to reign or no. Even his edict, convening the Fathers to the senate-house was issued simply beneath the tribunician title which he had received under Augustus. It was a laconic document of very modest purport:— "He intended to provide for the last honours to his father, whose body he could not leave — it with was the one function of the state which he made bold to exercise." Yet, on the passing of Augustus he had given the watchword to the praetorian cohorts as Imperator; he had the sentries, the men-at‑arms, and the other appurtenances of a court; soldiers conducted him to the forum, soldiers to the curia; he dispatched letters to the armies as if the principate was already in his grasp; and nowhere manifested the least hesitation, except when speaking in the senate. The chief reason was his fear that Germanicus — backed by so many legions, the vast reserves of the provinces, and a wonderful popularity with the nation — might prefer the ownership to the reversion of a throne. p257He paid public opinion, too, the compliment of wishing to be regarded as the called and chosen of the state, rather than as the interloper who had wormed his way into power with the help of connubial intrigues and a senile act of adoption. It was realized later that his coyness had been assumed with the further object of gaining an insight into the feelings of the aristocracy: for all the while he was distorting words and looks into crimes and storing them in his memory.

8 1 The only business which he allowed to be discussed at the first meeting of the senate was the funeral of Augustus. The will, brought in by the Vestal Virgins, specified Tiberius and Livia as heirs, Livia to be adopted into the Julian family and the Augustan name. As legatees in the second degree he mentioned his grandchildren and great-grandchildren; in the third place, the prominent nobles — an ostentatious bid for the applause of posterity, as he detested most of them. His bequests were not above the ordinary civic scale, except that he left 43,500,000 sesterces to the nation and the populace, a thousand to every man in the praetorian guards, five hundred to each in the urban troops, and three hundred to all legionaries or members of the Roman cohorts.10

The question of the last honours was then debated. The two regarded as the most striking were due to Asinius Gallus and Lucius Arruntius — the former proposing that the funeral train should pass under a triumphal gateway; the latter, that the dead should be preceded by the titles of all laws which he had carried and the names of all peoples whom he had subdued. In addition, Valerius Messalla suggested that the oath of allegiance to p259Tiberius should be renewed annually. To a query from Tiberius, whether that expression of opinion came at his dictation, he retorted — it was the one form of flattery still left — that he had spoken of his own accord, and, when public interests were in question, he would (even at the risk of giving offence) use no man's judgment but his own. The senate clamoured for the body to be carried to the pyre on the shoulders of the Fathers. The Caesar, with haughty moderation, excused them from that duty, and warned the people by edict not to repeat the enthusiastic excesses which on a former day had marred the funeral of the deified Julius, by desiring Augustus to be cremated in the Forum rather than in the Field of Mars, his appointed resting-place.11

On the day of the ceremony, the troops were drawn up as though on guard, amid the jeers of those who had seen with their eyes, or whose fathers had declared to them, that day of still novel servitude and freedom disastrously re-wooed, when the killing of the dictator Caesar to some had seemed the worst, and to others the fairest, of high exploits:— "And now an aged prince, a veteran potentate, who had seen to it that not even his heirs should lack for means to coerce their country, must needs have military protection to ensure a peaceable burial!"

9 1 Then tongues became busy with Augustus himself. Most men were struck by trivial points — that one day should have been the first of his sovereignty and the last of his life — that he should have ended his days at Nola in the same house and room as his father Octavius. Much, too, was said of the number of his consulates (in which he had equalled the combined totals of Valerius Corvus and Caius p261Marius),12 his tribunician power unbroken for thirty-seven years, his title of Imperator twenty-one times earned, and his other honours, multiplied or new. Among men of intelligence, however, his career was praised or arraigned from varying points of view. According to some, "filial duty and the needs of a country, which at the time had no room for law, had driven him to the weapons of civil strife — weapons which could not be either forged or wielded with clean hands. He had overlooked much in Antony, much in Lepidus, for the sake of bringing to book the assassins of his father. When Lepidus grew old and indolent, and Antony succumbed to his vices, the sole remedy for his distracted country was government by one man. Yet he organized the state, not by instituting a monarchy or a dictatorship, but by creating the title of First Citizen. The empire had been fenced by the ocean or distant rivers. The legions, the provinces, the fleets, the whole administration, had been centralized. There had been law for the Roman citizen, respect for the allied communities; and the capital itself had been embellished with remarkable splendour. Very few situations had been treated by force, and then only in the interests of general tranquillity."

10 1 On the other side it was argued that "filial duty and the critical position of the state had been used merely as a cloak: dome to facts, and it was from the lust of dominion that he excited the veterans by his bounties, levied an army while yet a stripling and a subject, subdued the legions of a consul,13 and affected a leaning to the Pompeian side. Then, following his usurpation by senatorial decree of the symbols and powers of the praetorship, had come the p263deaths of Hirtius and Pansa,14 — whether they perished by the enemy's sword, or Pansa by poisonº sprinkled on his wound, and Hirtius by the hands of his ownº soldiery, with the Caesar to plan the treason. At all events, he had possessed himself of both their armies, wrung a consulate from the unwilling senate, and turned against the commonwealth the arms which he had received for the quelling of Antony. The proscription of citizens and the assignments of land15 had been approved not even by those who executed them. Grant that Cassius and the Bruti were sacrificed to inherited enmities — though the moral law required that private hatreds should give way to public utility — yet Pompey was betrayed by the simulacrum of a peace,16 Lepidus by the shadow of a friendship: then Antony, lured by the Tarentine and Brundisian treaties17 and a marriage with his sister, had paid with life the penalty of that delusive connexion. After that there had been undoubtedly peace, but peace with bloodshed — the disasters of Lollius18 and of Varus, the execution at Rome of a Varro, an Egnatius, an Iullus."19 His domestic adventures were not spared; the abduction of Nero's wife, and the farcical questions to the pontiffs, whether, with a child conceived but not yet born, she could legally wed; the debaucheries of Vedius Pollio;20 and, lastly, Livia, — as a mother, a curse to the realm; p265as a stepmother, a curse to the house of the Caesars.21 "He had left small room for the worship of heaven, when he claimed to be himself adored in temples and in the image of godhead by flamens and by priests! Even in the adoption of Tiberius to succeed him, his motive had been neither personal affection nor regard for the state: he had read the pride and cruelty of his heart, and had sought to heighten his own glory by the vilest of contrasts." For Augustus, a few years earlier, when requesting the Fathers to renew the grant of the tribunician power to Tiberius, had in the course of the speech, complimentary as it was, let fall a few remarks on his demeanour, dress, and habits which were offered as an apology and designed for reproaches.

However, his funeral ran the ordinary course; and a decree followed, endowing him a temple and divine rites.

11 1 Then all prayers were directed towards Tiberius; who delivered a variety of reflections on the greatness of the empire and his own diffidence:— "Only the mind of the deified Augustus was equal to such a burden: he himself had found, when called by the sovereign to share his anxieties, how arduous, how dependent upon fortune, was the task of ruling a world! He thought, then, that, in a state which had the support of so many eminent men, they ought not to devolve the entire duties on any one person; the business of government would be more easily carried out by the joint efforts of a number." A speech in this tenor was more dignified than convincing. Besides, the diction of Tiberius, by habit or by nature, was always indirect and obscure, even when he had no wish to conceal his thought; and p267now, in the effort to bury every trace of his sentiments, it became more intricate, uncertain, and equivocal than ever. But the Fathers, whose one dread was that they might seem to comprehend him, melted in plaints, tears, and prayers. They were stretching their hands to heaven, to the effigy of Augustus, to his own knees, when he gave orders for a document22 to be produced and read. It contained a statement of the national resources — the strength of the burghers and allies under arms; the number of the fleets, protectorates, and provinces; the taxes direct and indirect; the needful disbursements and customary bounties catalogued by Augustus in his own hand, with a final clause (due to fear or jealousy?) advising the restriction of the empire within its present frontiers.

12 1 The senate, meanwhile, was descending to the most abject supplications, when Tiberius casually observed that, unequal as he felt himself to the whole weight of government, he would still undertake the charge of any one department that might be assigned to him. Asinius Gallus then said:— "I ask you, Caesar, what department you wish to be assigned you." This unforeseen inquiry threw him off his balance. He was silent for a few moments; then recovered himself, and answered that it would not at all become his diffidence to select or shun any part of a burden from which he would prefer to be wholly excused. Gallus, who had conjectured anger from his look, resumed:— "The question had been put to him, not with the hope that he would divide the inseparable, but to gain from his own lips an admission that the body politic was a single organism needing to be governed by a single intelligence." He added p269a panegyric on Augustus, and urged Tiberius to remember his own victories and the brilliant work which he had done year after year in the garb of peace. He failed, however, to soothe the imperial anger: he had been a hated man ever since his marriage to Vipsania (daughter of Marcus Agrippa, and once the wife of Tiberius), which had given the impression that he had ambitions denied to a subject and retained the temerity of his father Asinius Pollio.

13 1 Lucius Arruntius, who followed in a vein not much unlike that of Gallus, gave equal offence, although Tiberius had no standing animosity against him: he was, however, rich, enterprising, greatly gifted, correspondingly popular, and so suspect. For Augustus, in his last conversations, when discussing possible holders of the principate — those who were competent and disinclined, who were inadequate and willing, or who were at once able and desirous — had described Manius Lepidus as capable but disdainful, Asinius Gallus as eager and unfit, Lucius Arruntius as not undeserving and bold enough to venture, should the opportunity arise. The first two names are not disputed; in some versions Arruntius is replaced by Gnaeus Piso: all concerned, apart from Lepidus, were soon entrapped on one charge or another, promoted by Tiberius.23 Quintus Haterius and Mamercus Scaurus also jarred that suspicious breast — Haterius, by the sentence, "How long, Caesar, will you permit the state to lack a head?" and Scaurus, by remarking that, as he had not used his tribunician power to veto the motion of the consuls, there was room for hope that the prayers of the senate would not be in vain. Haterius he p271favoured with an immediate invective: against Scaurus his anger was less placable, and he passed him over in silence. Wearied at last by the universal outcry and by individual appeals, he gradually gave ground, up to the point, not of acknowledging that he assumed the sovereignty, but of ceasing to refuse and to be entreated. Haterius, it is well known, on entering the palace to make his excuses, found Tiberius walking, threw himself down at his knees, and was all but dispatched by the guards, because the prince, either from accident or through being hampered by the suppliant's hands, had fallen flat on his face. The danger of a great citizen failed, however, to soften him, until Haterius appealed to Augusta, and was saved by the urgency of her prayers.

14 1 Augusta herself enjoyed a full share of senatorial adulation. One party proposed to give her the title "Parent of her Country"; some preferred "Mother of her Country": a majority thought the qualification "Son of Julia" ought to be appended to the name of the Caesar. Declaring that official compliments to women must be kept within bounds, and that he would use the same forbearance in the case of those paid to himself (in fact he was fretted by jealousy, and regarded the elevation of a woman as a degradation of himself), he declined to allow her even the grant of a lictor, and banned both an Altar of Adoption24 and other proposed honours of a similar nature. But he asked proconsular powers25 for Germanicus Caesar, and a commission was sent out to confer them, and, at the same time, to console his grief at the death of Augustus. That the same demand was not preferred p273on behalf of Drusus was due to the circumstance that he was consul designate and in presence.26

For the praetorship Tiberius nominated twelve candidates, the number handed down by Augustus. The senate, pressing for an increase, was met by a declaration on oath that he would never exceed it.

15 1 The elections were now for the first time transferred from the Campus to the senate: up to that day, while the most important were determined by the will of the sovereign, a few had still been left to the predilections of the Tribes. From the people the withdrawal of the right brought no protest beyond idle murmurs; and the senate, relieved from the necessity of buying or begging votes, was glad enough to embrace the change, Tiberius limiting himself to the recommendation of not more than four candidates,27 to be appointed without rejection or competition. At the same time, the plebeian tribunes asked leave to exhibit games at their own expense — to be called after the late emperor and added to the calendar as the Augustalia. It was decided, however, that the cost should be borne by the treasury; also, that the tribunes should have the use of the triumphal robe in the Circus; the chariot was not to be permissible. The whole function, before long, was transferred to the praetor who happened to have the jurisdiction in suits between natives and aliens.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 This rendering is generally so convenient as to be inevitable, but the English reader should be careful to strip the word of its monarchical connotation.

2 The principal dates for the opening sentences are:— B.C. 753 Foundation of Rome; 509 Consulate of L. Brutus; 451‑450 (with part of 449) Decemvirate; 445 Institution of Tribuni militum consulari potestate (found with little interruption from 408 to 367); 87‑84 Four Consulates of Cinna; 82‑79 Dictatorship of Sulla; 53 Battle of Carrhae and death of Crassus; 48 Battle of Pharsalia and death of Pompey (in Egypt); 36 Lepidus divested of his powers by Octavian; 31 Defeat of Antony at Actium; 27 Octavian receives the title of Augustus.

3 Sextus Pompeius, defeated by Agrippa off Pelorum (C. di Faro) in 36 B.C.

4 For this and the other names in the chapter see the table on p240.

5 Now Pianosa, pretty nearly midway between Corsica and the coast of Tuscany.

6 Husband of a great-niece of Augustus, destroyed, with three legions (XVIIXIX), by Arminius in the forests of Westphalia (9 A.D.).

7 August 19, 14 A.D.

8 See the sketch of him in III.30.

9 "Weil vieles geschehen muss, was nur der, zu dessen Vorteil es geschieht, billigen kann" (Nipperdey). The verbal point of Crispus' apophthegm lies in the double sense of rationem reddere (see just above).

10 Cohorts (normally of Italian volunteers — ingenuorum, voluntariorum) attached to no particular legion, but otherwise on a parity with the legionaries. Over thirty of them have been traced in the imperial age.

11 The Mausoleum, which he had built in his sixth consulate (28 B.C.) in the northern part of the Campus Martius, between the Flaminian Road and the Tiber.

Thayer's Note: See the article Mausoleum Augusti in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

12 Thirteen (= 6 + 7).

13 Of Antony (44 B.C.).

14 Mutina (44 B.C.). "The rumour gained currency that both had perished by his agency; so that with Antony in flight and the commonwealth bereft of its consuls, he might as sole victor seize the command of three armies" (Suet. Aug. 11).

15 To the soldiery: see Virg. Ecl. IIX.

16 The treaty of Misenum between Octavian, Antony, and Sextus Pompeius (39 B.C.); not kept, and followed next year by war.

17 Brundisian treaty (practically dividing the Roman world between Octavian and Antony), 40 B.C.: Tarentine, 37 B.C.

18 Defeated with the loss of an eagle in Germany, 16 B.C.

19 Varro Murena and Egnatius Rufus, executed for conspiracy in 23 B.C. and 19 B.C. respectively: Iullus Antonius, son of the triumvir, compelled to suicide in 2 B.C. for adultery with Julia (see below, chap. 53).

20 A Roman knight of obscure origin and great wealth, said to have thrown slaves to his lampreys: a friend of Augustus. See D. Cass. LIV.23, with Fabricius' notes ad loc.

21 Because, in the one capacity, she had borne Tiberius, and, in the other, was credited with procuring the deaths of Gaius and Lucius Caesar.

22 One of three left by Augustus; the first dealing with his own funeral arrangements; the second (known in part from the Monumentum Ancyranum), a record of his achievements; the third (here meant), a breviarium totius imperii (Suet. Aug. 101).

23 This assertion is hardly borne out by Tacitus himself. In the case of Piso, it runs counter to his whole narrative; in that of Arruntius, he half acquits Tiberius at VI.47; while thirteen years were to elapse before the arrest of Gallus, and sixteen before his execution.

24 i.e., of her adoption in familiam Iuliam nomenque Augustum (chap. 8).

25 Not the ordinary proconsular imperium of the governor of a senatorial province, but a renewal of the imperium maius in Gaul and Germany, which he had held for three years.

26 For as consul designate, and present, he would have been placed in the invidious position of voting first on the question of his own preferment.

27 Out of the twelve whom he nominated for the praetorship.


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