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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals


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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(Vol. III) Tacitus

Book I (end)

 p367  72 1 In this year triumphal distinctions​1 were voted to Aulus Caecina, Lucius Apronius, and Caius Silius, in return for their services with Germanicus. Tiberius rejected the title Father of his Country,​2 though it had been repeatedly pressed upon him by the people: and, disregarding a vote of the senate, refused to allow the taking of an oath to obey his enactments.​3 "All human affairs," so ran his comment, "were uncertain, and the higher he climbed the more slippery his position." Yet even so he failed to inspire the belief that his sentiments were not monarchical.​4 For he had resuscitated the Lex Majestatis, a statute which in the old jurisprudence had carried the same name but covered a different type of offence — betrayal of an army; seditious incitement of the populace; any act, in short, of official maladministration diminishing the "majesty of the Roman nation." Deeds were challenged, words went immune. The first to take cognizance of written libel under the statute was Augustus; who was provoked to the step by the effrontery with which Cassius Severus​5 had blackened the characters of men and women of repute in his scandalous effusions: then Tiberius, to an inquiry put by the praetor, Pompeius Macer, whether process should still be granted on this statute, replied that "the  p369 law ought to take its course." He, too, had been ruffled by verses of unknown author­ship satirizing his cruelty, his arrogance, and his estrangement from his mother.

73 1 It will not be unremunerative to recall the first, tentative charges brought in the case of Falanius and Rubrius, two Roman knights of modest position; if only to show from what beginnings, thanks to the art of Tiberius, the accursed thing crept in, and, after a temporary check, at last broke out, an all-devouring conflagration.​6 Against Falanius the accuser alleged that he had admitted a certain Cassius, mime and catamite, among the "votaries of Augustus," who were maintained, after the fashion of fraternities, in all the great houses: also, that when selling his gardens, he had parted with a statue of Augustus as well. To Rubrius the crime imputed was violation of the deity of Augustus by perjury. When the facts came to the knowledge of Tiberius, he wrote to the consuls that place in heaven had not been decreed to his father in order that the honour might be turned to the destruction of his countrymen. Cassius, the actor, with others of his trade, had regularly taken part in the games which his own mother had consecrated to the memory of Augustus;​7 nor was it an act of sacrilege, if the effigies of that sovereign, like other images of other gods, went with the property, whenever a house or garden was sold. As to the perjury, it was on the same footing as if the defendant had taken the name of Jupiter in vain: the gods must look to their own wrongs.8

74 1 Before long, Granius Marcellus, praetor of Bithynia, found himself accused of treason by his  p371 own quaestor, Caepio Crispinus, with Hispo Romanus to back the charge. Caepio was the pioneer in a walk of life which the miseries of the age and effronteries of men soon rendered popular.​9 Indigent, unknown, unresting, first creeping, with his private reports, into the confidence of his pitiless sovereign, then a terror to the noblest, he acquired the favour of one man, the hatred of all, and set an example, the followers of which passed from beggary to wealth, from being despised to being feared, and crowned at last the ruin of others by their own. He alleged that Marcellus had retailed sinister anecdotes about Tiberius: a damning indictment, when the accuser selected the foulest qualities of the imperial character, and attributed their mention to the accused. For, as the facts were true, they were also believed to have been related! Hispo added that Marcellus' own statue was placed on higher ground than those of the Caesars, while in another the head of Augustus had been struck off to make room for the portrait of Tiberius. This incensed the emperor to such a degree that, breaking through his taciturnity, he exclaimed that, in this case, he too would vote, openly and under oath, — the object being to impose a similar obligation on the rest. There remained even yet some traces of dying liberty. Accordingly Gnaeus Piso inquired: "In what order will you register your opinion, Caesar? If first, I shall have something to follow: if last of all, I fear I may inadvertently find myself on the other side." The words went home; and with a meekness that showed how profoundly he rued his unwary outburst, he voted for the acquittal of the defendant on the counts of treason. The charge of peculation went before the appropriate commission.

 p373  75 1 Not satiated with senatorial cases, he took to sitting in the common courts, — at a corner of the tribunal, so as not to dispossess the praetor of his chair. As a result of his presence, many verdicts were recorded in defiance of intrigue and of the solicitations of the great. Still, while equity gained, liberty suffered. — Among these cases, Aurelius Pius, a member of the senate, complained that by the construction of a public road and aqueduct his house had been left insecure; and he asked compensation from the Fathers. As the treasury officials were obdurate, Tiberius came to the rescue, and paid him the value of his mansion: for, given a good cause, he was ready and eager to spend — a virtue which he long retained, even when he was denuding himself of every other. When Propertius Celer, the ex-praetor, applied to be excused from his senatorial rank on the score of poverty, he satisfied himself that his patrimony was in fact embarrassed, and made him a gift of one million sesterces.​10 Others who tried a similar experiment were ordered to make out a case before the senate: for in his passion for austerity, even where he acted justly, he contrived to be harsh. The rest, therefore, preferred silence and poverty to confession and charity.

76 1 In the same year, the Tiber, rising under the incessant rains, had flooded the lower levels of the city, and its subsidence was attended by much destruction of buildings and life. Accordingly, Asinius Gallus moved for a reference to the Sibylline Books. Tiberius objected, preferring secrecy as in earth so in heaven:​11 still, the task of coercing the stream was entrusted to Ateius Capito and Lucius Arruntius. Since Achaia and Macedonia protested  p375 against the heavy taxation, it was decided to relieve them of their proconsular government for the time being and transfer them to the emperor.​12 A show of gladiators, given in the name of his brother Germanicus, was presided over by Drusus, who took an extravagant pleasure in the shedding of blood however vile — a trait so alarming to the populace that it was said to have been censured by his father. Tiberius' own absence from the exhibition was variously explained. Some ascribed it to his impatience of a crowd; others, to his native morosity and his dread of comparisons; for Augustus had been a good-humoured spectator. I should be slow to believe that he deliberately furnished his son with an occasion for exposing his brutality and arousing the disgust of the nation; yet even this was suggested.

77 1 The disorderliness of the stage, which had become apparent the year before,​13 now broke out on a more serious scale. Apart from casualties among the populace, several soldiers and a centurion were killed, and an officer of the Praetorian Guards wounded, in the attempt to repress the insults levelled at the magistracy and the dissension of the crowd. The riot was discussed in the senate, and proposals were mooted that the praetors should be empowered to use the lash on actors. Haterius Agrippa, a tribune of the people, interposed his veto, and was attacked in a speech by Asinius Gallus, Tiberius said nothing: these were the phantoms of liberty which he permitted to the senate. Still the  p377 veto held good: for the deified Augustus had once remarked, in answer to a question, that players were immune from the scourge; and it would be blasphemy in Tiberius to contravene his words. Measures in plenty were framed to limit the expenditure on entertainments and to curb the extravagance of the partisans. The most striking were: that no senator was to enter the houses of the pantomimes; that, if they came out into public, Roman knights were not to gather round, nor were their performances to be followed except in the theatre; while the praetors were to be authorized to punish by exile any disorder among the spectators.

78 1 Permission to build a temple of Augustus in the colony of Tarraco​14 was granted to the Spaniards, and a precedent set for all the provinces. A popular protest against the one per cent duty on auctioned goods (which had been imposed after the Civil Wars) brought from Tiberius a declaration that "the military exchequer​15 was dependent on that resource;​16 moreover, the commonwealth was not equal to the burden, unless the veterans were discharged only at the end of twenty years' service." Thus the misconceived reforms of the late mutiny, in virtue of which the legionaries had extorted a maximum term of sixteen years, were cancelled for the future.

79 1 Next, a discussion was opened in the senate by Arruntius and Ateius, whether the invasions of the Tiber should be checked by altering the course of the rivers and lakes swelling its volume. Deputations from the municipalities and colonies  p379 were heard. The Florentines pleaded that the Clanis​17 should not be deflected from its old bed into the Arno, to bring ruin upon themselves. The Interamnates'​18 case was similar:— "The most generous fields of Italy were doomed, if the Nar​19 should overflow after this scheme had split it into rivulets." Nor were the Reatines​20 silent:— "They must protest against the Veline Lake​21 being dammed at its outlet into the Nar, as it would simply break a road into the surrounding country. Nature had made the best provision for the interests of humanity, when she assigned to rivers their proper mouths — their proper courses — their limits as well as their origins. Consideration, too, should be paid to the faith of their fathers, who had hallowed rituals and groves and altars to their country streams. Besides, they were reluctant that Tiber himself, bereft of his tributary streams, should flow with diminished majesty." Whatever the deciding factor — the prayers of the colonies, the difficulty of the work, or superstition — the motion of Piso, "that nothing was to be changed," was agreed to.

80 1 Poppaeus Sabinus was continued in his province of Moesia,​22 to which Achaia and Macedonia were added. It was one of the peculiarities of Tiberius to prolong commands, and, as often as not, to retain the same man at the head of the same army or administrative district till his dying day. Various reasons are given. Some hold it was the weary dislike of recurring trouble which caused  p381 him to treat a decision once framed as eternally valid; others that he grudged to see too many men enjoying preferment; while there are those who believe that as his intellect was shrewd so his judgment was hesitant; for, on the one hand, he did not seek out pre-eminent virtue, and, on the other, he detested vice: the best he feared as a private danger, the worst as a public scandal. In the end, this vacillation carried him so far that he gave provinces to men whom he was never to allow to leave Rome.

81 1 As to the consular elections, from this year's — the first — down to the last of the reign, I can hardly venture a single definite assertion: so conflicting is the evidence, not of the historians alone, but of the emperor's own speeches. Sometimes, he withheld the candidate's names, but described the birth, career, and campaigns of each in terms that left his identity in no doubt. Sometimes even these clues were suppressed, and he urged "the candidates" not to vitiate the election by intrigue, and promised his own efforts to that end. Generally, he declared that no one had applied to him for nomination, except those whose names he had divulged to the consuls: others might still apply, if they had confidence in their influence or their merits. In words the policy was specious; in reality, it was nugatory or perfidious and destined to issue in a servitude all the more detestable the more it was disguised under a semblance of liberty!

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The triumph proper (iustus triumphus) has now, as a logical consequence of the imperial system, become the exclusive privilege of the sovereign and his co-regents, the only holders of true imperium. The triumphalia insignia (ornamenta) carried with them the prestige and external distinctions of the triumph, which was itself unheld.

2 Conferred upon Augustus by the senate in 2 B.C. Tiberius' refusal was never withdrawn (II.89, D. Cass LVII.12), nor does the title figure upon his coins.

3 The annual oath, taken on the first of January by the magistrates and senate to treat as valid all acta of the emperor and, save in the case of damnatio memoriae, his predecessors, including the dictator Julius.

4 Civilis is apt to necessitate a loose paraphrase. Tiberius wishes to convey the impression that he is a kind of "empereur citoyen," a civis inter cives: the pose is discredited by the fact that, if the lex maiestatis is to apply to the princeps, it can only be because he has ceased to be a citizen and has become the State.

5 The famous orator, quem primum adfirmant flexisse ab illa vetere atque derecta dicendi via (Dial. 19); banished by Augustus to Crete in 8 A.D. (Jerome) or 12 A.D. (cf. D. Cass. LVI.27); removed by Tiberius to Seriphus and his property confiscated in 24 A.D. (below, IV.21); died in the twenty-fifth year of his exile.

6 It is not clear whether the close of the sentence refers only to the principate of Tiberius or whether the "conflagration" is the reign of terror occasioned by the merciless abuse of the lex maiestatis in the closing years of Domitian.

7 The scenic ludi Palatini (see D. Cass. LVI.46), which witnessed the assassination of Caligula.

8 Tiberius repeats a maxim of Roman law:— iurisiurandi contempta religio satis deum ultorem habet (Cod. IV.1.2).

9 As Rome lacked a public prosecutor, the law had to be set in motion by individuals. Hence the rise of the hated class of professional informers, "delatores," genus hominum publico exitio repertum (IV.30); who speculated on the rewards offered by the statutes in the event of a successful prosecution.

10 Roughly £10,000 — the property qualification fixed by Augustus as the minimum necessary for member­ship of the senate. Similar grants are mentioned with fair frequency (e.g. II.37).

11 He was sceptical, in any case, about the Sibylline canon (see VI.12 and D. Cass. LVII.18). The collection, transferred by Augustus in 12 B.C. from the Capitol to the temple of the Palatine Apollo, could only be consulted by the quindecimviri with the authorization of the senate.

12 In 27 B.C. Augustus introduced the classification of the provinces as public and imperial: the former still administered by ex-consuls and ex-praetors chosen by lot under supervision of the senate, the latter, by legati paid by and responsible to the sovereign. Achaia (Greece proper with Thessaly and Epirus) was then separated from Macedonia and converted into a senatorial province: it now, in 15 A.D., became imperial, and so remained for twenty-nine years. The financial relief consequent on the change would be due in part to the fact that the expense of a separate staff was saved by placing the province under the governor of Moesia, but in the main, no doubt, to a more efficient administration.

13 See above, chap. 54.

14 The chief town of north-eastern Spain (Hispania Tarraconensis) — now Tarragona.

15 Instituted and endowed by Augustus in 6 A.D., with the primary object of providing pensions and gratuities to time-expired men.

16 But not wholly so; for, apart from occasional sources of revenue, the proceeds of a five per cent succession duty (vicesima hereditatum) had also been ear-marked by Augustus for the new treasury.

17 Chiana.

18 Of Interamna Nahartium (now Terni) in Umbria. As the town was the birthplace of the emperor Tacitus, it erected a tomb to the historian also — only, it is said, to destroy it at the order of Pius V as that of an enemy of Christianity.

19 Nera.

20 Of Reate (the modern Rieti).

21 Lago di Piè-di‑Lugo. The lake lay between Reate and Interamna: the outlet was in reality artificial (Cic. ad Att. IV.15).

Thayer's Note: This isn't as clear as it could be. The Veline Lake as such no longer exists, but the beautiful small lake of Piediluco (to give it its modern spelling) still does; it is only a remnant of the ancient body of water. The lake is a frequent venue for world-class canoe and kayak competitions, where the Italian Olympic teams train.

22 An imperial province corresponding pretty closely to the Servia and Bulgaria of twenty years ago.

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Page updated: 13 Feb 09