Tiberius  

18 September 14 - 6 March 37



14-37

Tiberius

Tiberius
Tiberius
James Anderson

The death of the emperor Augustus caused inexpressible grief throughout the empire. It was even supposed that his wife had some hand in hastening it, to procure the succession more speedily for her son Tiberius. She took care for some time to keep it concealed.

At length having settled the succession to her mind, she published the emperor's death, and the adoption of Tiberius to the empire. The emperor's funeral was performed with great magnificence. The senators being in their places, Tiberius began a consolatory oration to them; but suddenly stopped in the beginning of his speech, as unable to retain the violence of his sorrow; and, gave his notes to his son, who read them to the senate. After this, one of the late emperor's freedmen publicly read his will in the senate house. In this he had made Tiberius and Livia his heirs; and Livia was honored with the name of Augusta.

Besides his will, four other writings were produced. One in which he had left instructions concerning his funeral; another containing an enumeration of his several exploits; a third comprising an account of the provinces, forces, and revenues of the empire; and, a fourth, a schedule of directions to Tiberius for governing the empire. Among these it was found to be his opinion, that no man should be entrusted with too much authority, lest it should induce him to turn tyrant. Another maxim was, that none should desire to enlarge the empire, which was already preserved with difficulty.

Tiberius was 56 years old when he took upon him the government of the empire, A. D. 15. He had long lived in a profound state of dissimulation under Augustus, and was not yet hardy enough to show himself in his real character of cruelty.

In the beginning of his reign, nothing appeared but prudence, generosity, and clemency. But the successes of Germanicus, his nephew, over the Germans, first brought his natural disposition to light.

He soon began to consult on the most specious means of lessening the popularity of Germanicus, and removing this object of his suspicions. For this purpose he despatched Piso to Germanicus upon every occasion, and even to procure his death if an opportunity should offer. This agent succeeded; Germanicus died soon after; and, as it was believed, by poison.

Having now no object of jealousy to keep him in awe, he threw off the mask. In the beginning of his cruelties he took into his confidence Sejanus, a Roman knight, who found out the method of gaining his confidence, by the most refined dissimulation, being an overmatch for his master in his own arts. He began by persuading Tiberius to retire to some agreeable retreat, remote from Rome. The emperor, either prevailed upon by his persuasions, or pursuing the natural turn of his temper, which led to indolence and debauchery, in the twelfth year of his reign left Rome, and went into Campania, under the pretence of dedicating temples to Jupiter and Augustus. Growing weary of places where mankind might follow, he withdrew himself into that most delightful island of Caprea, three miles from Naples. In this retreat, he gave himself up to his pleasures, quite regardless of the miseries of his subjects. From the time of his retreat he became more cruel, and Sejanus always endeavored to increase his distrusts.

In consequence of this, Nero and Drusus, the children of Germanicus, were declared enemies to the state, and afterwards starved to death in prison; while Agrippina, their mother, was sent into banishment. Sabinus, Asinius Gallus, and Syriacus, were, upon slight pretences, condemned and executed. In this manner Sejanus proceeded, removing all who stood between him and the empire, and every day increasing in confidence with Tiberius, and power with the senate.

But the rapidity of his rise seemed only preparatory to the greatness of his downfall. Satirus Secundus had the boldness to accuse him of treason, and Antonia, the mother of Germanicus, seconded the accusation. The senate, jealous of his power, took this opportunity of going beyond the orders of Tiberius, and instead of sentencing him to imprisonment, ordered him to execution. As he was conducted to his fate, the people loaded him with insult and execration. He was pursued with sarcastic reproaches; his statues were thrown down, and he strangled by the executioners.

His death only lighted up the emperor's rage for further executions. He grew weary of particular executions, and gave orders that all the accused should be put to death together, without further examination. The whole city was filled with slaughter and mourning. When a certain man had killed himself to avoid the torture, Ah, cried Tiberius, how has that man been able to escape me ! Thus he lived odious to all the world and to himself.

Tiberius at length, in the twentysecond year of his reign, began to feel the approaches of his dissolution, fixed upon Caligula for a successor; willing, by the enormity of Caligula's conduct, to cover the memory of his own.

He left his favorite island, for the continent; and at last fixed his residence at the promontory of Misenum, in a house that formerly belonged to Lucullus. It was there that he fell into such faintings as all believed were fatal. Caligula, supposing him actually dead, caused himself to he acknowledged by the praetorian soldiers, and went forth from the emperor's apartment amidst the applauses of the multitude; when he was informed that the emperor had recovered.

This unexpected account filled the whole court with terror and alarm : every one who had testified any joy, now reassumed a pretended sorrow, and left the new emperor through a feigned solicitude for the fate of the old. Caligula seemed thunderstruck; he preserved a gloomy silence, expecting nothing but death. Macro, who was hardened in crimes, ordered that the dying emperor should be despatched by smothering him with pillows. In this manner Tiberius died, A. D. 39, in the seventyeighth year of his age, after reigning twentytwo.

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