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Tacitus: Annals Book 5 [1]

1. IN the consulship of Rubellius and Fufius, both of whom had the surname Geminus, died in an advanced old age Julia Augusta. A Claudia by birth and by adoption a Livia and a Julia, she united the noblest blood of Rome. Her first marriage, by which she had children, was with Tiberius Nero, who, an exile during the Perusian war, returned to Rome when peace had been concluded between Sextus Pompeius and the triumvirs. After this Caesar, enamoured of her beauty, took her away from her husband, whether against her wish is uncertain. So impatient was he that he brought her to his house actually pregnant, not allowing time for her confinement. She had no subsequent issue, but allied as she was through the marriage of Agrippina and Germanicus to the blood of Augustus, her great-grandchildren were also his. In the purity of her home life she was of the ancient type, but was more gracious than was thought fitting in ladies of former days. An imperious mother and an amiable wife, she was a match for the diplomacy of her husband and the dissimulation of her son. Her funeral was simple, and her will long remained unexecuted. Her panegyric was pronounced from the Rostra by her great-grandson, Caius Caesar, who afterwards succeeded to power.

1. Rubellio et Fufio consulibus, quorum utrique Geminus cognomentum erat, Iulia Augusta mortem obiit, aetate s extrema, nobilitatis per Claudiam familiam et adoptione Liviorum Iuliorumque clarissimae. primum ei matrimonium et liberi fuere cum Tiberio Nerone, qui bello Perusino profugus pace inter Sex. Pompeium ac triumviros pacta in urbem rediit. exim Caesar cupidine formae aufert marito, incertum an invitam, adeo properus ut ne spatio quidem ad enitendum dato penatibus suis gravidam induxerit. nullam posthac subolem edidit sed sanguini Augusti per coniunctionem Agrippinae et Germanici adnexa communis pronepotes habuit. sanctitate domus priscum ad morem, comis ultra quam antiquis feminis probatum, mater impotens, uxor facilis et cum artibus mariti, simulatione filii bene composita. funus eius modicum, testamen tum diu inritum fuit. Iaudata est pro rostris a G. Caesare pronepote qui mox rerum potitus est.

2. Tiberius however, making no change in his voluptuous life, excused himself by letter for his absence from his last duty to his mother on the ground of the pressure of business. He even abridged, out of moderation, as it seemed, the honours which the Senate had voted on a lavish scale to her memory, allowing only a very few, and adding that no religious worship was to be decreed, this having been her own wish. In a part of the same letter he sneered at female friendships, with an indirect censure on the consul Fufius, who had risen to distinction through Augusta's partiality. Fufius was indeed a man well fitted to win the affection of a woman; he was witty too, and accustomed to ridicule Tiberius with those bitter jests which the powerful remember so long.

2. At Tiberius, quod supremis in matrem officiis defuisset, nihil mutata amoenitate vitae, magnitudinem negotiorum per litteras excusavit honoresque memoriae eius ab senatu large decretos quasi per modestiam imminuit, paucis admodum receptis et addito ne caelestis religio decerneretur: sic ipsam maluisse. quin et parte eiusdem epistulae increpuit amicitias muliebris, Fufium consulem oblique perstringens. is gratia Augustae floruerat, aptus adliciendis feminarum animis, dicax idem et Tiberium acerbis facetiis inridere solitus quarum apud praepotentis in longum memoria est.

3. This at all events was the beginning of an unmitigated and grinding despotism. As long indeed as Augusta lived, there yet remained a refuge, for with Tiberius obedience to his mother was the habit of a life, and Sejanus did not dare to set himself above a parent's authority. Now, so to say, they threw off the reins and let loose their fury. A letter was sent, directed against Agrippina and Nero, which was popularly believed to have been long before forwarded and to have been kept back by Augusta, as it was publicly read soon after her death. It contained expressions of studied harshness, yet it was not armed rebellion or a longing for revolution, but unnatural passions and profligacy which the emperor imputed to his grandson. Against his daughter-in-law he did not dare to invent this much; he merely censured her insolent tongue and defiant spirit, amid the panic-stricken silence of the Senate, till a few who had no hope from merit (and public calamities are ever used by individuals for interested purposes) demanded that the question should be debated. The most eager was Cotta Messalinus, who made a savage speech. Still, the other principal senators, and especially the magistrates, were perplexed, for Tiberius, notwithstanding his furious invective, had left everything else in doubt.

3. Ceterum ex eo praerupta iam et urgens dominatio: nam incolumi Augusta erat adhuc perfugium, quia Tiberio inveteratum erga matrem obsequium neque Seianus audebat auctoritati parentis antire: tunc velut frenis exoluti proruperunt missaeque in Agrippinam ac Neronem litterae quas pridem adlatas et cohibitas ab Augusta credidit vulgus: haud enim multum post mortem eius recitatae sunt. verba inerant quaesita asperitate: sed non arma, non rerum novarum studium, amores iuvenum et impudicitiam nepoti obiectabat. in nurum ne id quidem confingere ausus, adrogantiam oris et contumacem animum incusavit, magno senatus pavore ac silentio, donec pauci quis nulla ex honesto spes (et publica mala singulis in occasionem gratiae trahuntur) ut referretur postulavere, promptissimo Cotta Messalino cum atroci sententia. sed aliis a primoribus maximeque a magistratibus trepidahatur: quippe Tiberius etsi infense invectus cetera ambigua reliquerat.

4. There was in the Senate one Junius Rusticus, who having been appointed by the emperor to register its debates was therefore supposed to have an insight into his secret purposes. This man, whether through some fatal impulse (he had indeed never before given any evidence of courage) or a misdirected acuteness which made him tremble at the uncertain future, while he forgot impending perils, attached himself to the waverers, and warned the consuls not to enter on the debate. He argued that the highest issues turned on trivial causes, and that the fall of the house of Germanicus might one day move the old man's remorse. At the same moment the people, bearing the images of Agrippina and Nero, thronged round the Senate-house, and, with words of blessing on the emperor, kept shouting that the letter was a forgery and that it was not by the prince's will that ruin was being plotted against his house. And so that day passed without any dreadful result. Fictitious speeches too against Sejanus were published under the names of ex-consuls, for several persons indulged, all the more recklessly because anonymously, the caprice of their imaginations. Consequently the wrath of Sejanus was the more furious, and he had ground for alleging that the Senate disregarded the emperor's trouble; that the people were in revolt; that speeches in a new style and new resolutions were being heard and read. What remained but to take the sword and chose for their generals and emperors those whose images they had followed as standards.

4. Fuit in senatu Iunius Rusticus, componendis patrum actis delectus a Caesare eoque meditationes eius introspicere creditus. is fatali quodam motu (neque enim ante specimen constantiae dederat) seu prava sollertia, dum imminentium oblitus incerta pavet, inserere se dubitantibus ac monere consules ne relationem inciperent; disserebatque brevibus momentis summa verti: posse quandoque domus Germanici exitium paenitentiae esse seni. simul populus effgies Agrippinae ac Neronis gerens circumsistit curiam faustisque in Caesarem ominibus falsas litteras et principe invito exitium domui eius intendi clamitat. ita nihil triste illo die patratum. ferebantur etiam sub nominibus consularium fictae in Seianum sententiae, exercentibus plerisque per occultum atque eo procacius libidinem ingeniorum. unde illi ira violentior et materies criminandi: spretum dolorem principis ab senatu, descivisse populum; audiri lam et legi novas contiones, nova patrum consulta: quid reliquum nisi ut caperent ferrum et, quorum imagines pro vexillis secuti forent, duces imperatoresque deligerent?

5. Upon this the emperor, after repeating his invectives against his grandson and his daughter-in-law and reprimanding the populace in an edict complained to the Senate that by the trick of one senator the imperial dignity had been publicly flouted, and he insisted that, after all, the whole matter should be left to his exclusive decision. Without further deliberation, they proceeded, not indeed to pronounce the final sentence (for this was forbidden), but to declare that they were prepared for vengeance, and were restrained only by the strong hand of the sovereign.

5. Igitur Caesar repetitis adversum nepotem et nurum probris increpitaque per edictum plebe, questus apud patres quod fraude unius senatoris imperatoria maiestas elusa publice foret, integra tamen sibi cuncta postulavit. nec ultra deliberatum quo minus non quidem extrema decernerent (id enim vetitum), sed paratos ad ultionem vi principis impediri testarentur . . . . . . . . .

(The remainder of the fifth book and the beginning of the sixth, recounting Sejanus' marriage and fall and covering a space of nearly three years, are lost. Newer editions of Tacitus mark the division between the fifth and sixth books at this point rather than at the end of section 11; but references are regularly made to the older numbering, and so it has been retained here. The beginning of section 6 is obviously fragmentary.)

6. .... forty-four speeches were delivered on this subject, a few of which were prompted by fear, most by the habit of flattery.... "There is now a change of fortune, and even he who chose Sejanus to be his colleague and his son-in-law excuses his error. As for the rest, the man whom they encouraged by shameful baseness, they now wickedly revile. Which is the most pitiable, to be accused for friendship's sake or to have to accuse a friend, I cannot decide. I will not put any man's cruelty or compassion to the test, but, while I am free and have a clear conscience, I will anticipate peril. I implore you to cherish my memory with joy rather than with sorrow, numbering me too with those who by noble death have fled from the miseries of our country."

6. . . . Quattuor et quadraginta orationes super ea re habitae, ex quis ob metum paucae, plures adsuetudine . . . . . . 'mihi pudorem aut Seiano invidiam adlaturum censui. versa est fortuna et ille quidem qui collegam et generum adsciverat sibi ignoscit: ceteri quem per dedecora fovere cum scelere insectantur. miserius sit ob amicitiam accusari an amicum accusare haud discreverim. non crudelitatem, non clementiam cuiusquam experiar sed liber et mihi ipsi probatus antibo periculum. vos obtestor ne memoriam nostri per maerorem quam laeti retineatis, adiciendo me quoque iis qui fine egregio publica mala effugerunt.'

7. Then detaining those of his friends who were minded to stay with him and converse, or, if otherwise, dismissing them, he thus spent part of the day, and with a numerous circle yet round him, all gazing on his fearless face, and imagining that there was still time to elapse before the last scene, he fell on a sword which he had concealed in his robe. The emperor did not pursue him after his death with either accusation or reproach, although he had heaped a number of foul charges on Blaesus.

7. Tunc singulos, ut cuique adsistere, adloqui animus erat, retinens aut dimittens partem diei absumpsit, multoque adhuc coetu et cunctis intrepidum vultum eius spectantibus, cum superesse tempus novissimis crederent, gladio quem sinu abdiderat incubuit. neque Caesar ullis criminibus aut probris defunctum insectatus est, cum in Blaesum multa foedaque incusavisset.

8. Next were discussed the cases of Publius Vitellius and Pomponius Secundus. The first was charged by his accusers with having offered the keys of the treasury, of which he was prefect, and the military chest in aid of a revolution. Against the latter, Considius, an ex-praetor, alleged intimacy with Aelius Gallus, who, after the punishment of Sejanus, had fled to the gardens of Pomponius, as his safest refuge. They had no resource in their peril but in the courageous firmness of their brothers who became their sureties. Soon, after several adjournments, Vitellius, weary alike of hope and fear, asked for a penknife, avowedly, for his literary pursuits, and inflicted a slight wound in his veins, and died at last of a broken heart. Pomponius, a man of refined manners and brilliant genius, bore his adverse fortune with resignation, and outlived Tiberius.

8. Relatum inde de P. Vitellio et Pomponio Secundo. illum indices arguebant claustra aerarii, cui praefectus erat, et militarem pecuniam rebus novis obtulisse; huic a Considio praetura functo obiectabatur Aelii Galli amicitia, qui punito Seiano in hortos Pomponii quasi fidissimum ad sub sidium perfugisset. neque aliud periclitantibus auxilii quam in fratrum constantia fuit qui vades extitere. mox crebris prolationibus spem ac metum iuxta gravatus Vitellius petito per speciem studiorum scalpro levem ictum venis intulit vitamque aegritudine animi finivit. at Pomponius multa morum elegantia et ingenio inlustri, dum adversam fortunam aequus tolerat, Tiberio superstes fuit.

9. It was next decided to punish the remaining children of Sejanus, though the fury of the populace was subsiding, and people generally had been appeased by the previous executions. Accordingly they were carried off to prison, the boy, aware of his impending doom, and the little girl, who was so unconscious that she continually asked what was her offence, and whither she was being dragged, saying that she would do so no more, and a childish chastisement was enough for her correction. Historians of the time tell us that, as there was no precedent for the capital punishment of a virgin, she was violated by the executioner, with the rope on her neck. Then they were strangled and their bodies, mere children as they were, were flung down the Gemoniae.

9. Placitum posthac ut in reliquos Seiani liberos adverteretur, vanescente quamquam plebis ira ac plerisque per priora supplicia lenitis. igitur portantur in carcerem, filius imminentium intellegens, puella adeo nescia ut crebro interrogaret quod ob delictum et quo traheretur; neque facturam ultra et posse se puerili verbere moneri. tradunt temporis eius auctores, quia triumvirali supplicio adfici virginem inauditum habebatur, a carnifice laqueum iuxta compressam; exim oblisis faucibus id aetatis corpora in Gemonias abiecta.

Next: Book 5 [10]