I claudius c 1, p.39

I, Claudius c-1, page 39

 part  #1 of  Claudius Series

 

I, Claudius c-1
 



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  He now took Caligula somewhat into his confident and gave him a mission: to find out by intimate talks with Guardsmen, which of their captains had the greatest personal influence in the Guards' camp, next to Sejanus; and then to make sure that he was equally bloody-minded and fearless. Caligula dressed up in a woman's wig and clothes and, picking up a couple of young prostitutes, began frequenting the suburban taverns where the soldiers drank in the evening. With a heavily made up face and. padded figure he passed for a woman, a tall and not very attractive one, but still, a woman. The account that he gave of himself in the taverns was that he was being kept by a rich [335] shop keeper who gave him plenty of money--on the strength of which he used to stand drinks all round. This generosity made him very popular. He soon came to know a great deal of camp gossip, and the name that was constantly coming up in conversations was that of a captain called Macro. Macro was the son of one of Tiberius' freedmen, and from all accounts was the toughest fellow in Rome. The soldiers all spoke admiringly of his drinking feats and his wenching and his domination of the other captains and his presence of mind in difficult situations.

  Even Sejanus was afraid of him, they said: Macro was the only man who ever stood up to him. So Caligula picked up with Macro one evening and secretly introduced himself: the two went off for a stroll together and had a long talk.

  Tiberius then began writing a queer series of letters to the Senate, now saying that he was in a bad state of health and almost dying, and now that he had suddenly recovered and would arrive in Rome any moment. He wrote very queerly too about Sejanus, mixing extravagant praises with petulant rebukes; and the general impression conveyed was that he had become senile and was losing his senses. Sejanus was so puzzled by these letters that he could not make up his mind whether to attempt a revolution at once or to hold on to his position, which was still very strong, until Tiberius died or could be removed from power on the grounds of imbecility. He wanted to visit Capri and find out for himself just how things stood with Tiberius. He wrote asking permission to visit him on his birthday, but Tiberius answered that as Consul he should stay at Rome; it was irregular enough for himself to be permanently absent, Sejanus then wrote that Helen was seriously ill at Naples and had begged him to visit her: could he not be permitted to do so, just for a day? and from Naples it was only an hour's row to Capri. Tiberius answered that Helen had the best doctors and must be patient: and that he himself was really coming to Rome now and wanted Sejanus to be there to welcome him. At about the same time he quashed an indictment against an ex-Governor of Spain, whom Sejanus was accusing of extortion, on the grounds that the evidence was conflicting. He had never before failed to support Sejanus in a case of the sort. Sejanus began to be alarmed.

  The term of his Consulship expired.

  On the day set by Tiberius for his arrival in Rome, Sejanus was waiting, at the head of a battalion of Guards, outside the temple of Apollo, where the Senate happened to be sitting because of repairs that were being done at the time to the Senate House. Suddenly Macro rode up and saluted him. Sejanus asked him why he had left the Camp.

  Macro replied that Tiberius had sent him a letter to deliver to the Senate.

  "Why you?" Sejanus asked suspiciously.

  "Why

  not?"

  "But why not me?"

  "Because the letter is about you!" Then Macro whispered in his ear, "My heartiest congratulations, General.

  There's a surprise for you in the letter. You're to be made Protector of the People. That means you're to be our next Emperor." Sejanus had not really expected Tiberius to appear, but he had been made very anxious by his recent silence. He now rushed, elated, into the Senate House.

  Macro then called the Guards to attention. He said: "Boys, the Emperor has just appointed me your General in Sejanus' place. Here's my commission. You are to go straight back to the Camp now, excused all guard duties.

  When you get there tell the other fellows that Macro's in charge now and that there's thirty gold pieces coming to every man who knows how to obey orders. Who's the senior captain? You? March the men off! But don't make too much row about it."

  So the Guards went off and Macro called on the Commander of the Watchmen, who had already been warned, to furnish a guard in their place. Then he went in after Sejanus, handed the letter to the Consuls and came out at once before a word had been read. He satisfied himself that the Watchmen were properly posted and then hurried after the returning Guards to make sure that no disturbance arose in the Camp.

  Meanwhile the news of Sejanus' Protectorship had gone round the House and everyone began to cheer him and offer their congratulations. The senior Consul called for order and began reading the letter. It began with Tiberius' usual

  [337] excuses for not attending the meeting--pressure of work and ill-health--and went on to discuss general topics, then to complain slightly of Sejanus' hastiness in preparing the indictment of the ex-Govemor without proper evidence.

  Here Sejanus smiled because this petulance of Tiberius had always hitherto been a prelude to the granting of some new honour. But the letter continued in the same strain of reproach, paragraph after paragraph, with gradually increasing severity, and the smile slowly left Sejanus' face.

  The senators who had been cheering him grew silent and perplexed, and one or two who were sitting near him made some excuse and walked across to the other side of the House. The letter ended by saying that Sejanus had been guilty of grave irregularities, that two of his friends, his uncle Junius Blassus who had triumphed over Tacfarinas, and another, should, in his opinion, be punished and that Sejanus himself should be arrested. The Consul, who had been warned by Macro the night before what Tiberius wanted him to do, then called out, "Sejanus, come here!"

  Sejanus could not believe his ears. He was waiting for the end of the letter and his appointment to the Protectorship. The Consul had to call him twice before he understood. He said: "Me? You mean me?"

  As soon as his enemies realised that Sejanus had at last fallen they began loudly booing and hissing him; and his friends and relatives, anxious for their own safety, joined in. He suddenly found himself without a single supporter.

  The Consul asked the question, whether the Emperor's advice should be followed"Ay, ay!" the whole House shouted. The Commander of the Watchmen was summoned, and when Sejanus saw that his own Guards had disappeared and that Watchmen had taken their places, he knew that he was beaten. He was marched off to prison and the populace, who had got wind of what was happening, crowded round him and shouted and groaned and pelted him with filth. He muffled his face with his gown but they threatened to kill him if he did not show it; and when he obeyed they pelted him all the harder. The same afternoon the Senate, seeing that no Guards were about and that the crowd was threatening to break into the gaol to lynch Sejanus, decided to keep the credit for themselves and condemned him to death.

  Caligula sent Tiberius the news at once by beacon signal.

  Tiberius had a fleet standing by prepared to take him to Egypt if his plans went astray. Sejanus was executed and his body thrown down the Weeping Stairs, where the rabble abused it for three whole days. When the time came for it to be dragged to the Tiber with a hook through the throat, the skull had been carried off to the Public Baths and used as a ball, and there was only half the trunk left. The streets of Rome were littered, too, with the broken limbs of his innumerable statues.

  His children by Apicata were put to death by decree.

  There was a boy who had come of age, and a boy under age, and the girl who had been betrothed to my son Drusillus--she was now fourteen years old. The boy under age could not legally be executed, so, following a Civil War precedent, they made him put on his manly-gown for the occasion. The girl being a virgin was still more strongly protected by law. There was no precedent for executing a virgin whose only crime was being her father's daughter.

  When she was carried off to prison she did not understand what was happening and called out: "Don't
take me to prison! Whip me if you like and I won't do it again!" She apparently had some girlish naughtiness on her conscience, Macro gave orders that, to avoid the ill-luck that would befall the City if they executed her while still a virgin, the public executioner should outrage her. As soon as I heard of this, I said to myself: "Rome, you are ruined; there can be no expiation for a crime so horrible," and I called the Gods to witness that though a relative of the Emperor I had taken no part in the government of my country and that I detested the crime as much as they did, though powerless to avenge it.

  When Apicata was told what had happened to her children and saw the crowd insulting their bodies on the Stairs she killed herself. But first she wrote a letter to Tiberius telling him that Castor had been poisoned by Livilla and that Livilla and Sejanus had intended to usurp the monarchy. She blamed Livilla for everything. My mother had not known about the murder of Castor. Tiberius now called my mother to Capri, thanked her for her great services, and showed her Apicata's letter. He told her that any reward within reason was hers for the asking.

  My mother said that the only reward that she would ask was that the family name should not be disgraced: that her daughter should not be executed and her body thrown down the Stairs.

  "How is she to be punished then?" Tiberius asked sharply.

  "Give her to me," said my mother. "I will punish her."

  So Livilla was not publicly proceeded against. My mother locked her up in the room next to her own and starved her to death. She could hear her despairing cries and curses, day after day, night after night, gradually weakening; but she kept her there, instead of in some cellar out of earshot, until she died. She did this not from a delight in torture, for it was inexpressibly painful to her, but as a punishment to herself for having brought up so abominable a daughter. A whole crop of executions followed as a result of Sejanus' death--all his friends who had not been quick in making the change-over, and a great many of those who had.

  The ones who did not anticipate death by suicide were hurled from the Tarpeian cliff of the Capitoline Hill.

  Their estates were confiscated, Tiberius paid the accusers very little; he was becoming economical. On Caligula's advice he framed charges against those accusers who were entitled to benefit most heavily and so was able to confiscate their estates too. About sixty senators, two hundred knights and a thousand or more of the commons died at this time. My alliance by marriage with Sejanus'

  family might easily have cost me my life, had I not been my mother's son. I was now allowed to divorce Mia and to retain an eighth part of her dowry. As a matter of fact I returned it all to her. She must have thought me a fool.

  But I did this as some compensation for taking our little child Antonia away from her as soon as she was born. For M}ia had allowed herself to become pregnant by me as soon as she felt that Sejanus' position was becoming insecure.

  She thought that this would be some protection to her if he fell from power: Tiberius could hardly have her executed while she was with child of his nephew. I welcomed my divorce from ^Elia, but would not have robbed her of the child if my mother had not insisted on it: my mother wanted Antonia for herself as something to mother of her very own--grandmother-hunger, as it is called.

  The only member of Sejanus' family who escaped was his brother, and he escaped for the strange reason that he had publicly made fun of Tiberius' baldness.

  At the last annual festival in honour of Flora, at which he happened to be presiding, he employed only bald-headed men to perform the ceremonies, which were prolonged to the evening, and the spectators were lighted out of the theatre by five thousand children with torches in their hands and their heads shaved.

  Tiberius was informed of this in Nerva's presence by a visiting senator and just to create a good impression on Nerva he said, "I forgive the fellow. If Julius Caesar did not resent jokes about his baldness, how much less should I?" I suppose that when Sejanus fell Tiberius decided, by the same kind of whim, to renew his magnanimity.

  But Helen was punished, merely for having pretended to be ill, by being married to Blandus, a very vulgar fellow whose grandfather, a provincial knight, had come to Rome as a teacher of rhetoric. This was considered very base behaviour on Tiberius' part, because Helen was his granddaughter and he was dishonouring his own house by this alliance. It was said that one had not to go far back in the Blandus line before one came to slaves.

  Tiberius realised now that the Guards, to whom he paid a bounty of fifty gold pieces each, not thirty as Macro had promised, were his one certain defence against the people and the Senate. He told Caligula: "There's not a man in Rome who would not gladly eat my flesh." The Guards, to show their loyalty to Tiberius, complained that they had been wronged by having the Watchmen preferred to them as Sejanus' prison escort, and as a protest marched out of Camp to plunder the suburbs. Macro let them have a good night out, but when the Assembly-call was blown at dawn the next day, the men who were not back within two hours he flogged nearly to death.

  After a time Tiberius declared an amnesty. Nobody could now be tried for having been politically connected [34'] with Sejanus, and if anyone cared to go into mourning for him, remembering his noble deeds now that his evil ones had been fully punished, there would [A.D. 32] be no objection to this. A good many men did so, guessing that this was what Tiberius wanted, but they guessed wrong.

  They were soon on trial for their lives, faced with perfectly groundless charges, the commonest being incest. They were all executed. It may be wondered how it happened that there were any senators or knights left after all this slaughter: but the answer is that Tiberius kept the Orders up to strength by constant promotion.

  Free birth, a clean record, and so many thousands of gold pieces, were the only qualifications for admission into the Noble Order of Knights, and there were always plenty of candidates, though the initiation fee was heavy. Tiberius was becoming more grasping than ever: he expected rich men to leave him at least half their estates in their wills, and if they were found not to have done so he declared the wills technically invalid because of some legal flaw or other, and took charge of the entire estate himself; the heirs getting nothing. He spent practically no money on public works, not even completing the Temple of Augustus, and stinted the corn-dole and the allowance for public entertainments. He paid the armies regularly, that was all. As for the provinces, he did nothing at all about them any more, so long as the taxes and tribute came in regularly; he did not even trouble to appoint new governors when the old ones died. A deputation of Spaniards once came to complain to him that they had been four years now without a governor and that the staff of the last one were pillaging the province shamefully. Tiberius said: "You aren't asking for a new governor, are you? But a new governor would only bring a new staff, and then you'd be worse off than before. I'll tell you a story.

  There was once a badly wounded man lying on the battle-field waiting for the surgeon to dress his wound, which was covered with flies.

  A lightly wounded comrade saw the flies and was going to drive them away, 'Oh, no,' cried the wounded man, 'don't do that! These flies are almost gorged with my blood now and aren't hurting me nearly so much as they did at first: if you drive them away their place will be taken at once by hungrier ones, and that will be the end of me.”

  He allowed the Parthians to overrun Armenia, and the trans-Danube tribes to invade the Balkans, and the Germans to make raids across the Rhine into France. He confiscated the estates of a number of allied chiefs and petty kings in France, Spain, Syria and Greece, using the most flimsy pretexts. He relieved Vonones of his treasure--you will recall that Vonones was the former king of Armenia, about whom my brother Germanicus had quarrelled with Gnaeus Piso--by sending agents to help him escape from the city in Cilicia where Germanicus had put him under guard and then having him pursued and killed.

  The informers about this time began to accuse wealthy men of charging more than the legal interest on loans--one and a half per cent was all that
they were allowed to charge. The statute about it had long fallen in abeyance and hardly a single senator was innocent of infringing it. But Tiberius upheld its validity. A deputation went to him and pleaded that everyone should be allowed a year and a half to adjust his private finances to conform with the letter of the law, and Tiberius as a great favour granted the request. The result was that all debts were at once called in, and this caused a great shortage of current coin. Tiberius' great idle hoards of gold and silver in the Treasury had been responsible for forcing up the rate of interest in the first place, and now there was a financial panic and land-values fell to nothing. Tiberius was eventually forced to relieve the situation by lending the bankers a million gold pieces of public money, without interest, to pay out to borrowers in exchange for securities in land. He would not even have done this much but for Cocceius Nerva's advice. He still used occasionally to consult Nerva who, living at Capri, where he was kept carefully away from the scene of Tiberius' debauches and allowed little news from Rome, was perhaps the only man in the world who still believed in Tiberius' goodness. To Nerva [Caligula told me some years later] Tiberius explained his painted favourites as poor orphans on whom he had taken pity, most of them a little queer in the head, which accounted for the funny way they dressed and behaved. But could Nerva really have [345]

  been so simple as to have believed this, and so shortsighted?

  XXVIII

  OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS OF TIBERIUS' REIGN THE LESS told the better.

  I cannot bear to write in detail of Nero, slowly starved to death; or of Agrippina, who was cheered by news of Sejanus' fall, but when she saw that it made matters no better for her refused to eat, and was forcibly fed for awhile, and then at last left to die as she wished; or of Gallus, who died of a consumption; or of Drusus who, removed some time before from his attic in the Palace to a dark cellar, was found dead with his mouth full of the flock from his mattress, which he had been gnawing in his starvation. But I must record at least that Tiberius wrote letters to the Senate rejoicing in the death of Agrippina and Nero--he accused her now of treason and of adultery with Gallus--and regretting, in the case of Gallus, that "the press of public business had constantly postponed his trial so that he had died before his guilt could be proved".

 

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