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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Annals


published in Vol. IV
of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Tacitus, 1937

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. IV) Tacitus

Book V.1‑5

 p137  1 1 In the consulate of Rubellius and Fufius, both surnamed Geminus, Julia Augusta departed this life in extreme old age;​1 by member­ship of the Claudian family and by adoption into the Livian and Julian houses,​2 associated with the proudest nobility of Rome. Her first marriage and only children were to Tiberius Nero;​3 who, exiled in the Perusian War,​4 returned to the capital on the conclusion of peace​5 between Sextus Pompeius and the triumvirate. In the sequel, Augustus, smitten by her beauty, took her from her husband. Her regrets are doubtful, and his haste was such that, without even allowing an interval for her confinement, he introduced her to his hearth while pregnant. After this, she had no issue; but the union of Agrippina and Germanicus created a blood connection between herself and Augustus, so that her great-grandchildren were shared with the prince.​6 In domestic virtue she was of the old school, though her affability went further than was approved by women of the elder world. An imperious mother, she was an accommodating wife, and an excellent match for the subtleties of her husband and the insincerity of her son. Her funeral was plain, her  p139 will long unexecuted:​7º her eulogy was delivered at the rostra by her great-grandson Gaius Caesar, soon to occupy the throne.

2 1 Tiberius, however, without altering the amenities of his life, excused himself by letter, on the score of important affairs, for neglecting to pay the last respects to his mother, and, with a semblance of modesty, curtailed the lavish tributes decreed to her memory by the senate. Extremely few passed muster, and he added a stipulation that divine honours were not to be voted:​8 such, he observed, had been her own wish. More than this, in a part of the same missive he attacked "feminine friendships": an indirect stricture upon the consul Fufius, who had risen by the favour of Augusta, and, besides his aptitude for attracting the fancy of the sex, had a turn for wit and a habit of ridiculing Tiberius with those bitter pleasantries which linger long in the memory of potentates.

3 1 In any case, there followed from now onward a sheer and grinding despotism: for, with Augusta still alive, there had remained a refuge; since deference to his mother was ingrained in Tiberius, nor did Sejanus venture to claim precedence over the authority of a parent. But now, as though freed from the curb, they broke out unrestrained, and a letter denouncing Agrippina and Nero was forwarded to Rome; the popular impression being that it was delivered much earlier and suppressed by the old empress, since it was publicly read not long after her death. Its wording was of studied asperity, but the offences imputed by the sovereign to his grandson were not rebellion under arms, not meditated revolution, but unnatural love​a and moral depravity.  p141 Against his daughter-in‑law he dared not fabricate even such a charge, but arraigned her haughty language and refractory spirit; the senate listening in profound alarm and silence, until a few who had nothing to hope from honesty (and public misfortunes are always turned by individuals into stepping-stones to favour) demanded that a motion be put — Cotta Messalinus being foremost with a drastic resolution. But among other leading members, and especially the magistrates, alarm prevailed: for Tiberius, bitter though his invective had been, had left all else in doubt.

4 1 There was in the senate a certain Julius Rusticus, chosen by the Caesar to compile the official journal of its proceedings,​9 and therefore credited with some insight into his thoughts. Under some fatal impulse — for he had never before given an indication of courage — or possibly through a misapplied acuteness which made him blind to dangers imminent and terrified of dangers uncertain, Rusticus insinuated himself among the doubters and warned the consuls not to introduce the question — "A touch," he insisted, "could turn the scale in the gravest of matters: it was possible that some day the extinction of the house of Germanicus might move the old man's penitence." At the same time, the people, carrying effigies of Agrippina and Nero, surrounded the curia, and, cheering for the Caesar, clamoured that the letter was spurious and that it was contrary to the Emperor's wish that destruction was plotted against his house. On that day, therefore, no tragedy was perpetrated. There were circulated, also, under consular names, fictitious attacks upon Sejanus:​10 for authors in plenty exercised  p143 their capricious imagination with all the petulance of anonymity. The result was to fan his anger and to supply him with the material for fresh charges:— "The senate had spurned the sorrow of its emperor, the people had forsworn its allegiance. Already disloyal harangues, disloyal decrees of the Fathers, were listened to and perused: what remained but to take the sword and in the persons whose effigies they had followed as their ensigns to choose their generals and their princes?"

5 1 The Caesar, therefore, after repeating the scandalous allegations against his grandson and daughter-in‑law and rebuking the populace by edict, expressed his regret to the senate "that by the dishonesty of a single member the imperial majesty should have been publicly turned to scorn," but demanded that the entire affair should be left in his own hands. Further deliberation was needless, and they proceeded, not indeed to decree the last penalties (that course was forbidden) but to assert their readiness for vengeance, from which they were debarred by compulsion of the sovereign. . . .11

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 She was eighty-six (D. Cass. LVIII.1).

2 Her father was a Claudius, adopted by M. Livius Drusus, the reforming tribune of 91 B.C., and therefore bore the name M. Livius Drusus Claudianus, she herself being Livia Drusilla, until by the will of Augustus she was adopted in familiam Iuliam nomenque Augustum (I.8).

3 Father of the emperor. Suetonius devotes a chapter to his career (Tib. 4).

4 Between Octavian and L. Antonius, brother of the triumvir; terminated by the starving of Perusia (Perugia) into surrender (40 B.C.).

5 In 39 B.C.

6 Germanicus was her own grandson, Agrippina the grand-daughter of Augustus.

7 Her legacies were paid in full by Caligula (Suet. Cal. 16).

8 She was deified, however, by Claudius.

9 Inito honore (Caesar's first consulate, 59 B.C.) primus omnium instituit ut tam senatus quam populi diurna acta confierent et publicarentur (Suet. Jul. 20 init.).

10 Purporting to have been delivered in the senate.

11 A summary of the events related in the lost portions of this and the following books will be found in the chronological table (pp419‑22).

Thayer's Note:

a An artifact of early‑20c translation, nothing stated about natural or otherwise. Literally: love affairs with men over thirty (amores iuvenum). Adolescents were OK: the taboo was in gay sex with another adult male, since the assumption was that one of them would be playing a passive rôle.

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Page updated: 15 Oct 17