Part Three: History of
by Rick Archer
TALE OF SIX CAESARS (PLUS ONE)
Caesar - The Man Who Ended the Republic
Caesar - The Man Who Was First King
3 Tiberius -
The Man Who Did Not Want to be King
4 Sejanus -
The Man Who Barely Missed becoming King
5 Caligula -
The Man Who Should not Have been King
6 Claudius -
The Man Who was too Stupid to be King
7 Nero - The
Monster Who Ended the Julio-Claudian Line
You have all heard of ambition gone mad, corruption, and dirty
politics. You have all heard of political assassination. You
have all heard of sexual perversion, cruelty, and debauchery.
This story has it all. So where do you want me to start?
American politics can
be pretty rough sometimes, but we cannot even begin to hold a candle
to the Romans. There is no way to explain how stunning some of
these stories are. I could barely comprehend or believe some of the
stories I read while researching for this article.
Now I am going to
share them with you. If there is one word that could describe this
era, it would be "excess." The Romans did everything to
excess. Too much killing. Too much sex.
And too much cruelty.
Look no farther than
the savage blood sport recreation of the Romans - watching slaves
bash their comrade's brains in during gladiatorial contests,
watching defenseless Christians slaughtered by fierce animals,
torturing criminals in public for amusement, watching helpless
animals abused in all sorts of hideous ways, laughing and jeering at
the suffering - and you begin to comprehend this was a
horrible, violent society.
Why they call it the
"Roman Civilization" is a mystery. These people were NOT
These events occurred
two thousand years ago. Therefore I cannot promise that
everything I have written is the truth since I had no choice but to
rely on the accounts of others before me.
You can assume,
however, that everything I write was faithfully copied from research
I did on the Internet. My main source, of course, was the
amazingly helpful Wikipedia.
What I mean to say is
that no matter how outrageous the story is, you have my absolute
promise I did not make it up. I read it, gasped in amazement,
then looked at several more sources to see what they had to say.
I found there is strong consensus on even the most outrageous of
tales. And now I am passing it on to you.
This is a long
tale. Let me assure you of one thing - once you start reading
it, you won't want to stop. RA
This story is told in
Augustus Caesar, the Greatest of them All
Julio-Claudian Dynasty refers to the series of
the first five Roman Emperors. These men ruled the Roman
Empire from 27 BC to AD 68, when the last of the line, Nero,
committed suicide. The dynasty is so named from the
family names of its first two emperors: Gaius
Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius
Nero (Tiberius). The ruling line was founded upon an
alliance between these two families.
5 Emperors of the Dynasty:
1.Augustus ( 27 BC– AD 14)
2.Tiberius (14– 37)
3.Caligula (37– 41)
4.Claudius (41– 54
5.Nero (54– 68)
3 Tiberius - The Man Who Did
Not Want to be King
Born 42 BC,
the Second Roman Emperor (AD 14 - 37 AD)
Tiberius Claudius Nero ascended to Emperor in 14
AD. To help put things
into historical perspective, Jesus Christ walked the earth
during the reign of Tiberius. However, it is quite
unlikely that their paths ever crossed. Tiberius was
the second Roman Emperor.
The story of how
Tiberius came to succeed Augustus is nothing short of
remarkable. Tiberius was the longest of all long shots. Tiberius was, at best,
fourth or fifth in line to succeed Augustus.
Furthermore, as it was, his adopted father Augustus hated his
Tiberius was the
stepson of Augustus. Shortly after Tiberius was born, his
mother Livia had divorced Tiberius' father in
order to marry Augustus Caesar. Although Tiberius grew up
in the house of Augustus, there was absolutely no "father-son"
hardly Caesar's first choice to succeed him. The main
reason that Tiberius stood at the end of the line was that he had no
shared blood with Augustus Caesar. Since his mother Livia
was from the "Claudian" family, Tiberius was also a Claudian.
Augustus was from the "Julian" family.
One reason Julius Caesar had selected Augustus as his heir was
due to the shared family blood. Now Augustus was
determined to find a "Julian heir" as well.
Since Tiberius was
not part of the "Julian" bloodline, he wasn't even on the radar.
However, in 14 AD upon the death of Augustus,
77, Tiberius Claudius Nero was the
last man standing in a long and tumultuous line of fallen potential
The Early Years of
was a remarkable politician, but it is widely agreed that he was
largely responsible for the most dysfunctional family in Rome as
In 38 BC, Octavian
(Augustus) divorced Scribonia, an older woman whom
he had married because of her family ties to Pompey back in the
time when he needed Pompey's political support. It is said
that Scribonia gave birth to Octavian's only child, Julia,
on the same day as their divorce.
Octavian then “persuaded” Tiberius Claudius Nero, the father of
Tiberius, to divorce his young wife Livia so she
could marry him. Mind you, Livia was pregnant with another
son (Drusus) at the time. Octavian and Livia were married
immediately after both divorces. Octavian was from the
Julian line. Livia was from the Claudian line. Their
marriage marked the first combination of the "Julio-Claudian
After the divorce, Julia went to live with
her father Octavian, while Livia's two sons lived with their father for
five years until his death in 33 BCE. After that Tiberius
and his brother Drusus were raised by their mother Livia and
Once the two boys
moved into the home of Livia and their stepfather Octavian, Tiberius and his brother Drusus
bonded together against the world. Four years apart in
age, they became inseparable. They were each other's
Tiberius was 4
when his mother married Octavian. As he grew old enough to
understand, he realized that Octavian was directly responsible
his parent's divorce. Not surprisingly, Tiberius was never
fond of his stepfather.
Although Tiberius always carried some lingering animosity
towards his famous stepfather, his youth was normal (if you can
call growing up in the Imperial Palace 'normal'). Tiberius
was well-educated. He
was described as intelligent and thoughtful. Since
Tiberius had little interest in entering politics,
like most patrician youth, he was put into the military.
Tiberius served well. Since the thought of becoming
Emperor was too far-fetched, Tiberius concentrated completely on
his military career. Tiberius became an exceptional military general.
Tiberius was also very happily married.
As you will
discover, in the latter part of his life, Tiberius turned into a
monster who executed people right and left and indulged in
astonishing sexual depravity. Unlike Caligula, who was a
monster from practically his first breath, when you study the
early life of Tiberius, there was
absolutely no hint that someday Tiberius would turn dark.
Something changed this man.
Augustus Caesar, or
he was known in his youth, was the grandson of Julius Caesar's
sister Julia Caesaris. Considering that
Roman had the most powerful military ethic since Sparta, it is kind of ironic that Rome's greatest ruler grew
up as something of a nerd. Octavian was a sickly weakling who never excelled
at hand to hand combat or showed much interest in military
matters. In a world that valued fierce warriors over
intellectuals, the greatest leader of Rome turned out to be the kid
who had his nose stuck in a book all the time.
Julius Caesar on the other hand was both a warrior and a
While others despaired that the weakling Octavian had no
future in the military, fortunately Julius Caesar recognized the young man had talents
that no one else seemed to notice. He based his secret
decision to name Octavian his successor on his hunch that
Octavian was indeed special. Caesar kept his cards
close to his chest. Octavian
himself, just a teenager at the time, didn't even know what his
famous uncle thought of him. Upon the murder of Caesar, the news that he was
named in the will to be
Julius Caesar's successor was just as surprising to him as it
Augustus Caesar was never much of a general, he didn't need
to be because his best friend Marcus Agrippa was a brilliant commander.
Upon Julius Caesar's death, Octavian was forced to fight a
long series of civil wars to eliminate all of his enemies,
including of course Mark Antony and
Cleopatra. Agrippa was the man who won all the battles such as
that resulted in Augustus Caesar becoming the sole ruler of
Rome. After the military campaigns were over, Agrippa
helped Augustus run the government. Agrippa was responsible for improving many public works in the
City of Rome. Agrippa was Caesar's trusted right-hand man.
There was an incredible bond between these
two men. They were best friends. Augustus knew
beyond a shadow of a doubt that Agrippa would be a terrific successor.
But Agrippa had no "Julian Blood" in
him. What to do?
Guardian of the Julian Bloodline
One of the major
problems Augustus faced was how to ensure an orderly succession
after his death to the new form of power he had created.
Augustus wanted to make sure there would be no repeat of the
endless rounds of civil wars when he died. In the absence of sons, Augustus used the time-honored Roman
strategies of adoption and controlling the marriages of the
women in his family, in particular his daughter Julia.
From his actions, it is clear that his aim was to secure a blood
relative - preferably a direct descendant in the Julian line - as
his successor. Despite all of Augustus' efforts, it is one
of the greatest ironies of history that his strategy ultimately
resulted in the Emperor Caligula, hardly the kind
of ruler Augustus had envisioned.
as the oldest son in the Imperial Family, had a legitimate
claim as the successor to Augustus. However, Tiberius
was from the Claudian line and had no "Julian blood" in him.
Thanks to Augustus' eternal preoccupation with the Julian
bloodline, Tiberius fell out of consideration.
Tiberius had long known that Augustus wanted Marcus
succeed him. And with good reason. The two men had been through a lot of battles together. However,
like Tiberius, Agrippa did not have a single drop of "Julian
blood" in him either. Giving the problem serious
thought, Augustus thought of a solution.
To cement their close ties, Augustus Caesar asked Agrippa to
marry his only natural child, daughter Julia (from
his first marriage). Although Agrippa was 25 years senior
the union was successful. They had five children
together. Augustus was thrilled. Since
and Agrippa were the same age, the plan was that surely one of
the two would live long enough until Agrippa and Julia's
sons came of age. Down the road when one of these
children became Emperor, the Julian bloodline would
continue. The dynasty would stay intact.
that Changed Tiberius' Life
did not have any personal military skill, he had always
relied on Agrippa. However, at this point in their
careers, Augustus needed
Agrippa to stay in Rome to help manage the affairs of state.
Now Augustus was forced to rely on his extended family to conduct military
campaigns, especially Tiberius and Drusus, the two sons of
his wife Livia. Fortunately, both of his stepsons
turned out to be excellent commanders.
and Agrippa running the state and Drusus and Tiberius
patrolling the borders, Rome reached its absolute zenith of
Tiberius had a
very close tie to Agrippa. Tiberius was married to
Vipsania, the daughter of Agrippa by a previous marriage.
By all accounts, Vipsania was the love of Tiberius' life.
They had one child together, Castor.
The event that
changed everything occurred in 12 BC. That is the year
that Agrippa died of natural causes during a military campaign.
He was 51. Now that his first choice to succeed him was
gone, who would Augustus turn to?
was an obvious choice. He had done
well as a military general. He also had a formidable
patron in his corner, his mother. Empress Livia was doing
everything in her power to see that her son be put at the head
of the line of succession. Finally Augustus gave in
to his wife's pressure, but on one condition.
Tiberius had to marry his daughter. Recalling the five babies that Julia had given him during her
marriage to Agrippa, Augustus figured since that move worked once,
why not try it again? A marriage between Tiberius
and his fertile daughter Julia would surely produce more
children. Down the line when Tiberius died, his own
male heir would have Julian blood.
Thus, after the death of
his friend Agrippa, Augustus decided to promote his stepson
Tiberius, believing that this would best serve his own dynastic
interests. In addition, Augustus forced his daughter Julia, just
recently widowed by the death of Agrippa, to marry Tiberius so
that Tiberius could begin producing his own heirs with Julian
The idea was absurd for all sorts of reasons. Julia was
the stepsister of Tiberius. Julia and Tiberius had
literally grown up in the same household as brother and sister! Although
there were rumors they had once been kissing cousins of a
sort, at this point Tiberius didn't like Julia very much.
Tiberius preferred to keep Vipsania, the wife he already
Neither Julia nor
Tiberius wanted this Marriage.
Tiberius was happily married with a wonderful wife and a great son.
Furthermore, Vipsania was now pregnant with their
second child. Tiberius was a grown man with his own life.
Through his military career, Tiberius had served Rome well.
He deserved better. Tiberius resented being treated like a
pawn to be pushed around the board. If Augustus wanted him
to be the next Emperor, he would cooperate. However, he
could care less about Augustus' plan to create more "Julian blood".
Tiberius bristled with anger. First Augustus had broken up
the home of his mother and father, now he wanted to do the same
thing to him. This decision was thoroughly
Furthermore, Tiberius disliked Julia. Besides having the warmest attachment to Vipsania,
disgusted with the conduct of Julia, who had made indecent
advances to him during the lifetime of her former husband
Her advances towards him confirmed the likely truth of the
strong rumors that she regularly cheated on her aging husband
Agrippa. Fully aware of her reputation, Tiberius was
leery. Who wants a woman like this as a wife?
The knowledge that
Julia was a woman of loose character was well-known
throughout Rome. Julia's behavior while married
to the respectable Agrippa had been scandalous public
knowledge. Nor did Julia even bother to deny it.
Julia treated her affairs like a running joke. Once a
woman who knew about Julia's shocking behavior noticed that
for someone who distributed her favors so wildly, how did
she manage to always give birth to sons who strongly
resembled her husband Agrippa? Julia replied, "I
never take on a new passenger unless the ship is already
was just one of many eye-raising stories. Julia was a
complex woman. Julia had many good qualities.
Her love of literature and culture plus her
considerable wit made her a pleasant and stimulating
companion. Her kindness and utter
freedom from vindictiveness in a society that had so little
of these qualities had won her immense popularity. The
people who knew about her faults were amazed that she
combined them with qualities so much their opposite.
her good qualities, make no mistake about it - Julia had a
serious dark side. This impending marriage to Tiberius made
Julia deeply unhappy.
From Julia's point of view, she was sick and tired of being told
whom to marry by her father. This marked the third time
that Augustus had dictated to Julia which man she would marry.
Did she not have a right to a life of her own? Thanks
to the death of Agrippa, a man twice her age, Julia had begun to pursue men she found attractive with a
clear conscience for a change. Julia already
had someone else in mind and it certainly wasn't her gloomy
stepbrother. Julia had done her duty. She had
married for political reasons twice. She had produced
three male heirs. Now she was ready to have to some fun!
aghast. Why couldn't Caesar see that he was happily married?
His wife Vipsania was currently pregnant with their second
child. Political marriages were common in Rome, but
Tiberius wasn't really that interested in climbing higher.
That removed the only plausible reason he might have to
willingly divorce Agrippa's daughter Vipsania to marry
Agrippa's widow Julia. Right up to the last moment,
Tiberius pleaded with his mother Livia to persuade Augustus to
change his mind. Augustus would not relent. He was determined to
have his way.
Julia and Tiberius
had no choice in the matter. Based on Roman Law, Augustus had the right
to force the marriage. Therefore, against his will, Tiberius was forced to divorce Vipsania
woman he dearly loved, and marry Julia, a woman said to be the
biggest whore in all of Rome.
The marriage was
thus blighted almost from the start. At first, Tiberius
did the best he could to live quietly with Julia and make
the best of it.
However, it didn't take long until Julia rebelled against
her father and took her anger out on Tiberius. A
rupture soon ensued which became violent.
After the loss
of their son, who was born at Aquileia and died in infancy,
Tiberius screamed he would never sleep with Julia again.
Now there was much infidelity and it wasn't discrete either.
In 6 BC, six years
after their 12 BC wedding, the couple
separated for good. The union had produced no heirs, no Julian blood
and much bad will throughout the entire Imperial family.
Aftermath - Julia
Julia's life was
never the same. After Tiberius left, she continued her life as a sexual
profligate, entering into numerous scandalous affairs.
In fact, in 2 BC, just four years after the split, Julia's
rampant affairs had become such a huge
embarrassment to her father Augustus that he couldn't stand it any
The final straw
was Julia's affair with Antonius, the son of Mark
Antony. Mark Antony, you may remember, is the man who
expected to rule Rome after the death of Julius Caesar only to
be upstaged by a weakling teenager known as Octavian.
Antony and Octavian became deeply bitter rivals. It took
fourteen years, but Octavian chased Anthony across the earth
till finally his greatest rival met his death in Egypt.
You don't suppose the son of Mark Antony lusted for revenge
against the man who killed his father?
When news of Julia's affair with the son of Augustus' greatest
rival made its way to Augustus, this time Julia had crossed the
line. In addition to her copious promiscuity, there was a
strong hint that Julia had allowed herself to be used as a way
for conspirators to get close enough to Augustus to assassinate
him. Antonius was
sentenced to death for treason. Julia was exiled to a
island with no men! Julia would never return to Rome.
Nor was she able to reconcile with her father. She
remained an outcast for the rest of her life.
story is actually very tragic. Julia died a
rebellious little girl who was willful and passionate on the one
hand, but always carried a gentleness and compassion for the
people of Rome. During her life, she was dearly beloved by
nearly everyone she met except her stepmother, Livia, mother of
Tiberius. Although Julia did have a sharp tongue for her
father, she was also said to be his favorite companion.
Julia was loyal to her father throughout her life until the
marriage to Tiberius broke her completely.
The decision by
Augustus to exile his daughter was a mockery. Yes,
Antonius may have hoped to get close to Augustus via Julia, but
Julia was hardly intent on betraying her father's safety. Even though her
affair with Antonius raised eyebrows, there was no proof that
Julia was disloyal to her father. More than likely, she
chose this man as a way to hurt her father's pride, not to
cooperate with any plot.
Augustus had no one to blame but himself for his only daughter's
miserable end. He ruined her life.
After he separated
from his wife Julia, in 6 BC, Tiberius departed for Rhodes,
an island near Turkey. He wanted to get as far away from
Rome as possible! The promiscuous, and very public,
behavior of his unhappily married wife Julia was the likely
reason for the departure. The writer Tacitus
calls Julia's behavior Tiberius'
intima causa, i.e. his innermost reason for departing
for Rhodes. Tacitus seems to ascribe Tiberius' move to a
combined hatred of Julia as well as his continued longing for
Vipsania that was driving him crazy with remorse. Tiberius
had a good thing and he had lost it.
Vipsania had moved
on after her divorce from Tiberius. Vipsania was realistic
about what had happened. She was hurt of
course, but understood the divorce was definitely not Tiberius'
fault. It wasn't her fault either. Why sit
around and feel sorry for herself? Vipsania landed
on her feet. She was still young and quite
attractive. One year after the divorce, she had
married a powerful Senator named Gallus.
Tiberius had long
hated this man with a passion. During his marriage to
Vipsania, Tiberius had been away from Rome for long periods of
time keeping the borders in Germany safe from marauding
barbarians. There was a strong rumor that Castor,
Tiberius' son by Vipsania, was in fact the child of Gallus. Complicating matters,
Gallus never denied
his paternity of Castor. This unsettling thought had long
lingered in the mind of Tiberius as well as the possibility
Gallus was also the father of the child Vipsania was
expecting on her divorce. Tiberius brooded that Vipsania
had preferred Gallus to him even while they were married.
He wondered if Vipsania had even secretly approached Augustus to
suggest she had no objections to divorcing Tiberius.
Nothing preys upon
a man's mind more than worries about an unfaithful wife that he
cares about. A cursory look at the circumstances suggests
that Tiberius had a lot to worry about.
After Gallus married Vipsania, they had six children together.
It didn't Tiberius' mood much to know his former
wife's new marriage was a happy one that was producing one child
Tiberius on the other hand had moved on to a bitter marriage
with an unfaithful woman that had produced no heirs and much spite.
Look what she had. Look what he had. The unfairness of it all drove him crazy.
could not bear the pain anymore, the thought crossed his fragile mind
that perhaps Vipsania would consider seeing him again.
mentioned, political marriages were common in Rome among the
upper class. However, these often business-like
marriages involved human beings with real feelings, not
The pursuit of love is not an instinct that can be turned on
and off at will. Adultery was the safety valve that
allowed these frequently loveless marriages to survive.
It was an imperfect solution, yet a convenient one we still see in our
marriage to Julia began to hit the rocks, a forlorn Tiberius
sought out his former wife Vipsania for solace. He
still loved her deeply and felt the deepest regret for
divorcing her. Now he desperately wanted to take her
in his arms again and regain the warmth they had once
sympathetic to Tiberius' plight, but unwilling to take any
sort of risk. Despite his tears and his pleading, Vipsania
kept Tiberius at arm's length lest she endanger herself and
her children by her new marriage. She did not wish to
face the wrath of Augustus or her husband.
Vipsania was a
sensible woman who knew that no possible good could come from
renewing her relationship with Tiberius. She had a good
marriage and had no desire to bring danger by flirting with this
deeply troubled man. Who in their right mind chances
incurring the wrath of the Imperial Family? Besides, Tiberius was
out of his mind thinking she was still interested in him.
No good could ever come of this, only misery and danger.
reported the meeting to someone who passed the information on to
the Imperial Family. When Augustus found out about this
dangerous meeting, he made sure that Tiberius would never be
allowed to come near Vipsania again.
Tiberius was forbidden to ever see Vipsania again.
The threat was unnecessary. Vipsania's cold shoulder had
already closed the door to that dream. Tiberius knew there
was no hope of regaining the woman that he loved. He found himself locked into a marriage to a woman he loathed, a
publicly humiliated him with nighttime escapades in the Forum,
with no back door escape possible. He would never again be able to see the woman he really
loved, a woman who had married his most bitter rival. Thanks to
the meddling of Augustus, Tiberius was stuck with Julia
whether he liked it or not.
They say that Tiberius was prone to depression and melancholy.
Well, in this situation, he appeared to have a good reason to
suffer. It couldn't be easy knowing that his former wife,
the woman he would love till he died, was perfectly happy
resting in the
arms of a man he hated and bearing his children.
Jealousy and bitterness ate at Tiberius. It dominated his
every thought. It made him sick. It produced the
kind of pain that leads to madness.
Escape to the Island of
Once the loveless
marriage collapsed, Tiberius' life was never the same.
bitter enough towards Julia, but his hatred towards Augustus for
breaking up his happy marriage to Vipsania was thinly concealed.
Thanks to his bitterness, Tiberius could not have cared less
about becoming Emperor. He hated Augustus, he hated Rome,
and he hated the world. Hit the Rhodes, Jack, and don't
to move to
Rhodes was not received well. If Augustus was to die
tomorrow, Tiberius was supposed to step in on a moment's notice.
What gave him the right to go live on an island that was at best a
two week journey away? It would take two weeks to
send him any news and two weeks for him to get back to Rome.
This would not work.
Let's face it, Tiberius was
rebelling against Augustus Caesar just as Julia had
rebelled against him.
Oddly enough, just
as Tiberius was ready to sail, Augustus fell very ill. Somewhat
apocryphal stories tell of Augustus pleading with Tiberius to
stay, even going so far as to stage this illness. Tiberius's response was to anchor off the shore of Ostia, the
port of Rome, until
word came that Augustus had survived. At that moment,
set sail straightway
withdrawal from Roman life was disastrous for Augustus's
succession plans. Augustus, now 57 years old, was left with no
immediate successor. There was no longer a guarantee of a
peaceful transfer of power after Augustus's death, nor a
guarantee that his family, and therefore his family's allies,
would continue to hold power should he die.
furious. How dare his stepson snub him! Tiberius
was openly rebelling against the role that had been chosen for
him. Now Augustus became bitter towards Tiberius.
A serious grudge developed between the two men.
made it to Rhodes and gave it some thought, he suddenly realized his own life was in danger for spurning
Augustus. He reportedly discovered the error of his ways and requested to
return to Rome several times, but each time Augustus refused his
requests. Augustus referred to him as "The Exile".
Augustus had to develop a new plan of succession. Fortunately for Augustus, his disgraced daughter
Julia had produced three male heirs by her marriage to Agrippa.
As of 6 BC, one boy was 14, another was 11. If Augustus could live long enough, one of these boys would
become old enough to take his place. That became the new
plan of succession.
Except there was
one problem. Two of the boys died mysteriously and the
third was sent into exile thanks to a sex scandal. In a
flash, three legitimate heirs to the throne had gone poof!
If we can hit
the "Pause" button for a moment, doesn't it strike you as
curious that during the reign of Augustus so many people
died or got exiled? People died around Augustus all the time;
I just haven't reported them all. You think this is a
long story? If I explained the story of every person around the
Imperial family that died in these days, this epic saga would
never end. Rome was a very dangerous place to be. In
fact, there are several more deaths just down the road as
well. There is a fascinating story operating behind
the scenes here. It is a tale we shall save for later.
The Return of
Now that the last
three direct heirs with "Julian blood" in them had been eliminated,
left Tiberius as the last man standing. Augustus was fit
to be tied. There was no one else qualified to become Emperor
except his ungrateful and dour stepson. Ten years after Tiberius
had sailed off for Rhodes, he was recalled to Rome. In 4 AD, with great reluctance,
Augustus called Tiberius out of retirement and officially
recognized him as his successor, adding the words 'This I
do for reasons of state.'
There passed ten
more years of sullen resentment between the two men.
When Augustus passed away in 14 AD, he relinquished his power to
a man he deeply disliked and didn't trust. Augustus knew full well that Tiberius hated him for
ruining his life.
Actually, Tiberius wasn't the only person whose life was ruined
by Augustus. There was Julia too.
For that matter, every person
involved in Julius Caesar's assassination had to die for
Augustus to become Emperor. Then Mark Antony and Cleopatra
had to die for Augustus to become Emperor. Then Julius Caesar's son Caesarean by Cleopatra had to die
for Augustus to become Emperor. In fact, by some accounts,
Augustus had to fight as many as 30 different civil wars to rid
himself of every one of his enemies. It is said that
Augustus' ascension to the throne ended 100 years of Roman Civil
Countless thousands of people died during Augustus' climb to the
top.... All that bloodshed just so Augustus could hand over his hard-earned title
to a bitter stepson who hated his guts and didn't want anything
to do with the damned throne. All that wasted energy
over Julian blood. For what? Augustus died knowing his
successor was next to worthless and he had no one
to blame but himself.
In 14 AD, at the
age of 56, Tiberius reluctantly ascended to Imperial power. The continuation and success of the newly
created Empire rested squarely on the shoulders of a man who
seemingly had only a partial interest in his own personal
Tiberius would rule for 24 years. His reign is divided by
historians into two equal parts. For the first twelve
years, by all accounts, Tiberius was an
unenthusiastic but competent ruler. Although an extremely
efficient emperor, especially in the provinces, Tiberius was
never popular either with the senators or with the populace. He
had a grim personality and difficulty in expressing his wishes
clearly to the Senate. Put another way, his powers of
persuasion were limited. He considered the Senate a den of
fools and they didn't have much good to say about him either.
While Augustus had been the perfect political tactician with a
powerful personality yet approachable demeanor, Tiberius was a
direct contrast. His relationship with the Senate was always
contentious. He was a dark figure, keenly intelligent,
sometimes terribly cunning and ruthless, yet basically miserable
at being forced to assume the role as Emperor. Tiberius was
given to bouts of severe depression and dark moods that had a
great impact on his political career as well as his personal
His reign abounds in contradictions. Despite his intelligence,
he allowed himself to come under the influence of unscrupulous
men who ruined Rome while he turned a blind eye.
Furthermore, despite his vast military experience, he oversaw
the conquest of no new region for the empire. He was
content to simply defend the borders of existing territory.
Tiberius had the ability, but halfway through his reign he
stopped using it. A casual observer would speculate that
he simply burned out.
There were two
extremely suspicious events that took place during Tiberius'
reign. Tiberius had two excellent men in line to be his
heir. One was Germanicus, Tiberius' nephew. Germanicus
was the only son of Tiberius's beloved brother Drusus.
Tiberius and Drusus were incredibly close growing up. Tiberius'
grew up to become a gifted military leader who was extremely
popular. As the nephew of Tiberius, Germanicus was widely
heralded as the Crown Prince of Rome. It was said that the
people of Rome said prayers that Tiberius would hurry up and die
just so Germanicus could take over.
married to Agrippina, the daughter of Tiberius'
much-disliked wife Julia from her previous marriage to Agrippa.
That meant that all of Germanicus' children would carry "Julian
blood" because their grandmother Julia was the daughter of
Augustus. From the very start, Germanicus was outgoing,
athletic, and brilliant. Augustus was so taken with the lad that he seriously considered
promoting him to be his successor even though Germanicus was 23
years younger than his uncle Tiberius. Augustus was
persuaded by his wife the Empress Livia to stick with the more experienced
Tiberius, but in so doing Augustus at least insisted that Tiberius name Germanicus as his successor.
Germanicus would help restore the missing Julian bloodline to
the throne. Tiberius agreed to carry out Augustus' wishes,
however a tragedy intervened.
In 19 AD, just five years into
the reign of Tiberius, during a military campaign in Turkey, Germanicus turned up dead by poisoning.
The news of Germanicus's death was received at Rome with
universal lamentation; people took his death the same way modern
Americans responded to JFK's assassination. All ranks of the people entertained
an opinion, that, had Germanicus survived to succeed Tiberius, he would have
restored the freedom of the Republic.
in Rome turned towards Tiberius in suspicion because the
suspected assassin was a well-known friend of Tiberius.
the man suspected of carrying out the assassination, was put on
trial. In the middle of the trial, Piso mysteriously
killed himself to avoid telling the truth. Conspiracy
theories abounded. Many believed Tiberius may have had Piso
murdered before he could implicate the emperor in Germanicus'
death. It was said that Tiberius was jealous of his
popular nephew and the fear of his nephew's increasing power
was the true motive behind the conspiracy. The suspicious
death of Germanicus greatly affected Tiberius' popularity in
unless there are details I am missing, blaming Tiberius doesn't make a
lot of sense. No matter how popular Germanicus was, he was not a serious threat to his uncle
Tiberius. Far from it! There is no evidence of
public discord between Tiberius and his uncle.
Furthermore, Tiberius seemed to be more interested in giving his
job away than he was murdering his only nephew to protect his
position. Tiberius' attitude was, "You want my job?
Here, you can have it!"
unfairness of the accusations explains why Tiberius
was so bitter that people would blame him. Tiberius
was never the most cheerful guy to begin with. This
incident was the beginning of the end. He began to brood
over the accusations. Tiberius
seems to have tired of politics at this point. Three years
after the death of Germanicus, in AD 22, Tiberius
began to share his authority with his natural son Castor, 35.
Castor, you may remember, was his only son by his marriage to Vipsania.
Although Tiberius wasn't close to Castor, secretly suspecting he
might not even be the boy's true father, he was at least willing
to groom the young man to take his place.
It was at this point that Tiberius began making yearly
excursions to Campania that reportedly became longer and longer
every year. Then came the final tragedy. In AD 23, Tiberius' son
Castor mysteriously died, a
likely victim of poisoning. First Germanicus, now
People sure have a funny way of dying around here.
The loss of his
son Castor was the straw that broke the camel's back.
At this point, Tiberius seemed to lose all remaining
interest in ruling Rome. No one in Rome liked him and
there was no one in Rome he liked either. He hated his
job and he hated his life. Tiberius had been going
through the motions for some time.
In AD 26, Tiberius
retired from Rome altogether and moved to the island of
Capri. History would not judge this move kindly. Tiberius
has received scathing criticism for abandoning the state for
the final twelve years of his reign. His withdrawal from public
life would prove disastrous.
His susceptibility to the scheming of those around him made Rome
vulnerable to tyranny.
By his actions, Tiberius basically
said, "Take this job and shove it. Let Rome be damned."
Because he had probably always been happiest when away from the
capital and its endless deaths and constant plots and intrigue, Rome's emperor
simply departed to Villa Jovis, his holiday mansion on the isle of Capri.
Tiberius left a
man named Sejanus in charge of running the
Empire. Tiberius had just made a stunning mistake.
He handed the keys to the most unscrupulous man in Rome, someone who would
stop at nothing to get whatever he wanted.
The Emperor had just asked the
Fox to guard the henhouse!
4 Sejanus - The Man Who
Barely Missed Becoming King
Beware the Man
who promises to protect you. He will protect you from
every Man but himself.
should come as no surprise, but Ancient History
was one of my favorite courses back in high school. I
definitely paid attention in that class and I can assure you
that the name "Sejanus" was never mentioned.
And yet this monster came within a stone's throw of stealing
the throne right out from under Tiberius' nose. It was
The sordid tale of
Sejanus is likely to be one of the best stories
you have never heard before.
the son of Tiberius' first Praetorian Prefect Strabo.
Thanks to his father's position, Sejanus was an
equestrian by birth, one step below the patrician class.
Strabo had previously served under Augustus. As a boy, Sejanus
grown up alongside the
Imperial family thanks to the unique
body guard responsibilities of his father during the Reign
In 16 AD, 2 years after Tiberius took
over, he appointed Strabo to the governorship of Egypt (the
highest political position for an Equestrian of the time). That created an opening
for the head of Rome's Praetorian Guard. Sejanus was
about 20 at the time; Tiberius was 58. Tiberius had
known Sejanus since he was a child. Despite his
youth, Tiberius felt comfortable giving the young man his
father's job. After all, Sejanus had spent his entire
life surrounded by the affairs of the Praetorian Guard.
Everyone knew him. Sejanus moved fluidly into the same command of the Praetorian
Guard that his father had just vacated.
Sejanus was young, but very confident. Some would say
'cocky'. Sejanus possessed an ambition that knew no
quickly became one of Tiberius' closest confidants and
trusted advisors. It didn't take Sejanus long to expand his
responsibilities to other areas as well. Over the next few years, Sejanus
impressed Tiberius through his gift as a sycophant and
through his many administrative
abilities. The young Prefect continued to be entrusted
with more duties and more power.
Sejanus had reached a level of importance that was oddly out
of balance with his secondary station in life. He had
seen an opportunity and run with it.
His close relationship
with Tiberius put him at odds with other members of the
Imperial family, in particular the emperor's son,
After Germanicus, Castor was next in line to inherit the
throne. Castor was keenly ambitious himself and
therefore highly sensitive to any threat to his position. He
kept close tabs on the movements of this overly ambitious
upstart who was clearly doing his best to worm his way into Tiberius' good graces.
Castor should! His instincts were absolutely dead on.
The higher Sejanus rose in government, the more determined
he became to take it all the way to the top. Sejanus wasn't backing down
anyone. The two Alpha males developed a serious dislike for
each other. Once in the course of a casual argument
with Sejanus, Castor raised his fist and struck him in the
face. Thanks to Castor' position as son of the
Emperor, Sejanus did not dare strike back. However,
Sejanus was determined to even the score.
death of the popular Germanicus in 19 AD ratcheted up the
tension between these two rivals. By law, only a
patrician could become Emperor. As an equestrian by
birth, Sejanus should have been out of the running. No
matter. Sejanus was already in the process of
positioning himself as a potential heir. He figured
that with Germanicus dead, Castor was
the most serious obstacle who stood in his way of his climb
to the throne.
Sejanus drew a target on his rival's back, then began to
brew the poison.
Sejanus had a plan. If he could marry into the
Imperial family, his equestrian birth would no longer be an
issue. Sejanus had just the right person in mind -
It wasn't difficult to
be interested in the woman. By
all accounts, Livilla was one of the most
tempting women in all of Rome. In addition to her
beauty, Livilla was highly placed in the Imperial family.
Livilla's mother Antonia was the widow of
Drusus, Tiberius' beloved brother who had died
during a military campaign. That made Tiberius
brother in law to Antonia. Her daughter Livilla
was now married to Castor, Tiberius' only
child. A highly respected woman, Antonia was one of
the few people remaining who had stayed on Tiberius' good
side all these years.
Unfortunately, Livilla did not take after her classy mother.
She was described as spiteful, cruel, vindictive and
treacherous. Livilla was not only Tiberius' niece, she
was also his daughter-in-law. Throughout her life,
whatever Livilla wanted, Livilla got.
Sejanus had every opportunity
to chase Livilla. Due to his unique
position, he had the run of the palace. He could be
there at all hours and never raise suspicion. He even
had his own quarters. Ever better, his rival Castor
was usually gone!
father Tiberius, Castor had been groomed to be a military
leader. Thus Castor was frequently out in the field
for long periods of time commanding troops.
Castor was no Prince Charming. He was said to be a
brute with a violent temper. He liked to drink, he
liked to fight, he liked to visit the brothels. His
loutish behavior left the left the door wide open for the
ambitious Sejanus to pursue his wife.
As you can imagine, when Sejanus came knocking, Livilla
didn't put up much of a fight. They began a passionate
was known to no one, but it grew so serious that Sejanus was
actually the true
father of Livilla's youngest son Gemellus, not Castor.
the boy didn't exactly take after his father.
Apparently this was a common sport in the highly promiscuous
climate of ancient Rome - let's guess
who the real father is! The casual speculation was a
matter of great concern to Sejanus and Livilla. Not
surprisingly, they were terrified their affair would be
exposed. What if Castor became suspicious?
Sejanus could easily be put to death for his adultery.
After all, this was the Emperor's son that Sejanus had
unlikely the old goat Tiberius would grant Livilla a divorce
to marry Sejanus. Desperate to be together, but
increasingly scared of being caught, Sejanus and Livilla
hatched a plot. They would poison Castor to death.
This would free Livilla to marry Sejanus, the man she loved.
acting poison, his symptoms were chalked off to alcohol
abuse, having as he did the reputation for
heavy drinking. Indeed, the murder was
done so skillfully that the death of Castor in 23 AD gave
rise to no suspicion. The ladder was clear to start
With the major
heir to the throne gone, the road to
the top was free of the most important obstacle.
Now there is just one more hurdle to cross. Sejanus
had to join the Imperial family. In 25 AD, Sejanus
asked Tiberius for Livilla’s hand in marriage. To his
dismay, Tiberius said no. Tiberius knew full well that
Sejanus was engaged in serious social climbing.
Sejanus was still just an equestrian while Livilla was a
member of a noble family of the highest order.
was stunned by the rejection. A marriage to Livilla
would have This was a very serious setback.
Still, Sejanus had the sense not to challenge Tiberius.
He backed down gracefully and bided his time. Despite this
setback with Livilla, Sejanus still believed himself a
potential successor of the emperor. He just had to try
a different route. Sejanus
had a dirty trick up his sleeve.
For years now,
Sejanus had systematically wormed his way in his master's
favor through a combination of praise and the ability to
tell the man what he wanted to hear. Along the way,
Sejanus learned that Tiberius was so insecure that he
overreacted to any criticism and any threat. Sejanus
discovered the easiest way to manipulate his boss was to play
upon the aging man's fears. Any time he wanted a
promotion, all Sejanus had to do was think of a plot to
scare the man to death.
request to marry Livilla was shot down, Sejanus stepped up
campaign about all the treacherous plots against Tiberius.
Thanks to Sejanus' tales, Tiberius saw an assassin in every
corner and every shadow.
of security, Sejanus could make up all manner of stories.
The more afraid Tiberius became, the more he avoided people.
He had become a hermit in his own palace. That forced him to
rely on others to give him information. Since he had
few friends left he could trust, this put Tiberius in
an awkward position. Sejanus controlled total access
to Tiberius. No one said a word to Tiberius without
first clearing it with Sejanus. Consequently, there
was no one to contradict whatever Sejanus had to say.
Tiberius had become totally dependent on the word of his
Preying on a weary old
man, thanks to Sejanus' clever power of suggestion, Tiberius
developed a serious paranoia. As well he should!
The easiest lie to swallow always contains enough truth in
it to make it seem real. For years now, all sorts of
people around Augustus had a way of dying young.
Now with the suspicious death of first Germanicus, then
Castor, the death plague had come to visit the House of
Tiberius as well. Tiberius began to fear for his life.
suggested Tiberius begin to think about leaving Rome for Capri
for his own safety.
above the Mediterranean Sea in his magnificent mountain
palace, Tiberius would be far removed from danger.
Tiberius could relax and
let his vigorous young assistant handle the daily affairs of
state. Tiberius was 66 years old. He had been
deeply weary of his job for a long time. Now, thanks
to the evil of Sejanus and his lies, Tiberius was scared out
of his wits.
promise of escape to his mountain lair was too tempting to
resist. Tiberius took the bait. In 26 AD he made
an abrupt move to Capri. Sejanus had him so convinced
that everyone was out to get him, Tiberius surrounded his
villa with guards and kept an escape boat at the foot of the
cliffs of Capri at all times.
Tiberius left the government in the hands of Sejanus, his Praetorian
Prefect. Sejanus had played his cards as well as
humanly possible. Full of tremendous ambition, with Tiberius
gone, Sejanus had become the de facto
emperor of Rome. He, not Tiberius, was making the day
to day decisions regarding the government of Rome and the
AD, using the Praetorian Guard to do his bidding, Sejanus
began his reign of terror.
Sejanus immediate began to shape Rome to his liking. He used his power to remove any
other possible candidates to the throne. Even though
Castor was gone, Sejanus had a little more housecleaning to
do. Although they were just kids, there was a trio of
potential heirs floating around. Sejanus also began to
round up all political enemies. Using trumped up
charges under the Treason Law, he murdered these men and
stole their estates in the process.
Fear spread through Rome like
wildfire. No one - nobility or peasant - was safe if
they had something Sejanus wanted.
his Mafia, The Praetorian
Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by
Roman Emperors, similar to our own Secret Service. It
had been a habit of Roman generals to choose from the ranks
a private force of soldiers to act as guards of the tent or
the person. When Augustus became the first ruler of
the Roman Empire in 27 BC, he decided such a formation was
useful not only on the battlefield but in politics also.
It is quite likely the senseless death of his uncle Julius
Caesar had taught him the need to have protection at all
times. Thus, from the ranks of the legions throughout
the provinces, Augustus recruited the Praetorian Guard.
The Praetorian Guard came to be a vital force in the power
politics of Rome. While Augustus understood the need to have
a protector in the maelstrom of Rome, he was careful to
uphold the Republican veneer of his regime and not let the
presence of the Praetorians become too overbearing. Thus
Augustus allowed only nine cohorts to be formed, 1,000 men
each. Only three cohorts were kept on duty at any
given time in the capital. While they patrolled
inconspicuously in the palace and major buildings, the
others were stationed in the towns surrounding Rome; no
threats were possible from these individual cohorts.
Augustus, the Praetorian Guard had been a benign police
force. By keeping the cohorts totally separate, if one cohort got out of
line, the other eight were prepared to quell any rogue
However, in a
clever move, Sejanus had given the Praetorians real power. In 23 AD, Sejanus convinced Tiberius to have
the the fort of the Praetorians built just outside of Rome.
Sejanus brought the Guard from the Italian barracks out in
the countryside into Rome itself. Now the cohorts were
together in one convenient spot where Sejanus would have
their combined might at his disposal.
turned them loose, the entire Praetorian Guard had been at the disposal of
the emperors. Now the rulers were equally at the
mercy of the Praetorians. Sejanus had succeeding in
bringing his own little army into Rome. The 9,000 members of
the Guard were not stupid. They realized they had
become the true power of Rome. Whoever controlled them
controlled Rome. Like a household robot that suddenly
gains "awareness", thanks to Sejanus, the Praetorian Guard
had become the force to be reckoned with in Roman politics.
Fortunately for Sejanus, he was the ultimate lion tamer.
He made sure to keep his animals on a short leash. The
Praetorian men would do his bidding
While the cat's away... with Tiberius asleep at the wheel
hundreds of miles away at Capri, the coast was clear.
Using Praetorian muscle, Sejanus set about creating a vast
power base for himself. Sejanus turned his men into his own little Mafia
and turned them loose.
Tiberius' withdrawal, Sejanus systematically took control of
the government. For five years (26 - 31 AD), he ruled
Rome with an iron fist. Anyone in the Senate who
mounted opposition to Sejanus in any form found themselves
in terrible danger of falling victim to a trumped up charge
of Terror began in 26 AD. However, thanks to Tiberius,
the climate of fear in Rome had begun long before that.
succeeded Augustus, Tiberius started out well enough.
However his thin skin quickly got the better of him.
Unaccustomed to politics and dealing with opposition, the
disagreements with the Senate got to him. Furthermore,
the veritable deluge of public criticism and derision stung
him badly. People compared him to Augustus and found
him wanted. Tiberius was no match for his popular
predecessor, the sunny and witty Augustus. "Dump
Tiberius in the Tiber" soon became the joke of the
Thanks to his
hideous marriage to Julia, his broken love affair with
Vipsania, his bitter quarrels with Augustus, and his long
exile to Rhodes, the mental state of Tiberius had greatly
deteriorated from his days as the confident commander of the
Roman legions in Germany.
years, Tiberius had grown about as jaded and cynical as they
come. He had developed a grim view of human nature.
Tiberius had always been highly suspicious of the motives of
others, but now in his later years he developed a pathological
paranoia. Everyone was out to get him.
To read the story of Tiberius, it is impossible not to
compare him to our modern day Richard Nixon. "You
won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more."
Notorious for his own thin skin, Nixon jeopardized his
presidency by his constant overreaction to criticism.
Watergate developed as the direct byproduct of Nixon's
constant use of dirty - and highly illegal - tricks to
sabotage his political enemies. If ever there was a
case for reincarnation, this might be one to look at.
On his departure for Capri, the Emperor said, "You
won't have Tiberius to kick around any more."
Or maybe it is just my imagination he said that.
and vengeful streak led him to strike back against anyone he
suspected of being an enemy. Thanks to the dissent that started
largely with the death of Germanicus, Tiberius began to interpret any insults to the
emperor as tantamount to treason against the state. Hoping to
quell all plots in the bud, Tiberius frequently invoked the
Treason Law against any and all suspicious
behavior. Tiberius encouraged informers to come
forward and name conspirators.
Under the Treason Law, people who informed against an individual
suspected of treason received a portion of the accused's estate
when he had been convicted and executed.
there were always plenty of informers ready to spy on their
neighbors. Tiberius accused Roman men and women of many,
even silly crimes that led to capital punishment and
confiscation of the criminal's estate. Since there was practically no recourse against false
accusations, many innocent people were put to death for the
flimsiest of reasons. Off with their heads!
results were predictable. Soon no one in Rome dared
say a negative word. The entire city was miserable and
frightened, but at least the executions tapered off.
However, once Tiberius was out of the
picture, Sejanus elevated the use of the Treason Law
to an art form. He developed a shakedown technique
that would have made the Mafia proud.
of Majestas (Treason Law) in the hands of an
unscrupulous person like Sejanus was a terrifying weapon.
The punishment in the time of Tiberius was death (usually by
beheading) and confiscation of property. A traitor to the
state could not make a will or a gift or emancipate a slave.
Furthermore, it did no good to commit suicide before trial.
The death of the accused did not extinguish the charge.
If found guilty of treason of the gravest kind, such as
levying war against the state, the memory of the deceased
became infamous and his property was forfeited as though he
had been convicted in his lifetime.
The Senate had little choice but to cow to the man who
controlled 9,000 Praetorians within the very walls of Rome.
Using his "treason acts", Sejanus could have any man
arrested he wanted to. Many of Rome's leading citizens
were executed in this way. Sejanus would point to a
man and tell the Praetorian Guard to go round him up.
Poof! He was gone. This tyranny terrified all of
With this kind
of threat, if Sejanus told you to do something, you did it
or else. There was no way to defy Sejanus. No
one dared cross him.
only when Tiberius withdrew to Capri that things
changed, especially over the last five or six years of
the reign. Death began replacing deportation, the
activities of professional accusers reach a new peak,
with evidence being extracted by force, fear or fraud."
Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome by
Know About This?
say, "Let's tell Tiberius!" Easier said than done.
That's the kind of message that could get you killed.
Talking to Tiberius was tantamount to taking on suicide
sure that all mail sent to Tiberius was read ahead of time.
This wouldn't work.
stranded ten miles offshore on a remote island two hundred
miles from Rome. People communicated with his villa
from land through light signals similar to Morse code.
Are you going to put your message out there for everyone to
So you take a
boat and try to sneak out to the island, a sort of commando
operation. That's quite a gamble. You don't
suppose Sejanus' henchman will see you coming?
And even if you sneak onto land at night, you still have to
get through the tight security around the mountaintop villa.
Sounds like a great movie, but unlikely in real life.
If you make an
official visit, you have to clear it through Sejanus.
Practically no one was allowed to visit Tiberius except
friends and family. Even if you get your visit
approved, there is a strong chance your meeting will be
supervised. Thus you better have a compelling backup
line of conversation. And now you are on
Sejanus' watch list. Very risky.
One way to
reach Tiberius would be through the use of a trusted friend,
but he didn't have very many "trusted friends". More
than likely, if you complained to someone important enough
to reach Tiberius, you might easily find yourself
complaining to a member of Sejanus' feared web of spies.
Family back in Rome was a possibility. They were aware
of the climate of fear in Rome, but they were also aware
that Sejanus has them watched like a hawk. Any
suspicious movement would be questioned. They would be
risking their own lives to ask permission to talk to
is a strong and very scary chance that Tiberius knew what
was going on and approved of it. Or would he even
Thus, by controlling access to Tiberius,
Sejanus guaranteed his total control of
Path to the Throne
Enjoying unlimited power in Rome, Sejanus was free to
Sejanus' next step was to remove the two immediate heirs to the throne,
Caesar and Drusus Caesar, and their
irritating mother Agrippina as well on what were most likely
fictitious charges of treason. These two young men were the sons of Germanicus, the hero who had been poisoned
to death back in 19 AD. Thanks to Agrippina, daughter
of the infamous Julia, both young men carried
the cherished "Julian Blood". Sejanus could have cared
less about the blood line problem, but he was concerned that
these two boys had were the new direct heirs to the throne.
surprise you to know that Tiberius not only knew about each
of these moves, he approved them. Since Sejanus
controlled the flow of information that reached Tiberius on
Capri, he was able to build trumped up cases against each
that enraged the old man. Tiberius didn't care about
the loss of these two heirs. He despised their mother.
Agrippina, wife of the deceased Germanicus,
had long been a thorn in Tiberius' side. For years she
had publicly accused Tiberius of complicity in her husband's
poisoning. Whether she spoke the truth or not, one
thing is certain - Tiberius had grown to hate Agrippina with
a purple passion. He was more than happy to have
Sejanus dispose of Agrippina and her two sons if for no
other reason than to simply shut her up. However,
before he sent her away, Tiberius granted her a face to face
meeting where she attempted to warn him about Sejanus.
The old man refused to listen to her, but a seed of doubt
had at least been planted. And then he sent her into
exile. Too bad; this woman had a lot of courage.
And she paid for it with her life.
In 29 Agrippina and her eldest son Nero
Julius Caesar were deported; her second son,
Drusus Julius Caesar, was imprisoned in 30. Nero Caesar was banished to
an island, Drusus Caesar was imprisoned in the cellar of the
imperial palace. In 30 AD Nero Caesar, age 24,
was ordered to commit suicide; in 33 AD, Drusus Caesar, age
26, was starved to
death in prison. Sejanus had nearly destroyed the entire Julio-Claudian
There was only one left. The only surviving son of Germanicus as heir
to the throne was the young Gaius (Caligula).
Through some bizarre twist of fate, Caligula escaped almost
certain elimination when Tiberius ordered him brought to
Capri to stay with him. This timely action is the only
thing that kept Caligula, the eventual heir, from suffering
the same fate at the hands of Sejanus as his two brothers.
worried. He controlled complete
access to Tiberius, whose position on Capri made him
virtually inaccessible to any messages. No one could tell Tiberius
what was really going on back in Rome! That
meant Sejanus had all the time in the world to assassinate
Caligula when the opportunity presented itself, most likely
immediately after the natural death of the emperor, a time
that seemed close at hand.
Sejanus' power reached its
zenith when Tiberius promoted him to the same consular
office that Tiberius held in 31 AD.
the promotion, Sejanus travels to Capri to petition Tiberius
again to allow him to marry Livilla.
Now, to his
great relief and surprise, Tiberius seemed to withdraw his opposition to Sejanus
marrying into the Imperial family. However, for some
reason, Tiberius remains reluctant to give permission to
marry his daughter-in-law (and niece) Livilla.
Instead, Tiberius, now 73, threw the oddest twist at
Sejanus. He said Sejanus had permission to marry his
granddaughter, Livia Julia.
and frowned simultaneously.
On the hand,
Sejanus was thrilled. Finally! This would be his
way into the Imperial family. Privately speaking,
Sejanus had no objections to marrying Livia Julia, a 26 year
On the other
hand, Sejanus suspected Livilla, his mistress, would throw
an absolute fit. Perhaps it would help to mention that
Livia Julia was the daughter of Livilla.
Maybe Sejanus should run this by Livilla before accepting.
On the other hand, if he gave Tiberius time to think about
it, maybe the Emperor would change his mind.
Livilla was back in Rome hundreds of miles away and Tiberius
wanted an answer now. Better to say 'yes' now than to
take a chance. Sejanus said this
arrangement would be suitable to him.
On his trip
back to Rome, Sejanus was in a very good mood. Surely
Livilla would understand. He had an excellent
explanation to tell Livilla. After all, Tiberius was
so old, he could keel over any moment. Once he was
dead, Sejanus would simply call off the wedding and be free
to marry Livilla instead.
that once he was married
into the Imperial family, he would become a patrician and
eligible for succession to the throne. With all the
heirs except Caligula murdered, Sejanus would have the
inside track. Even if Tiberius named Caligula his
heir, Sejanus assumed getting rid of Caligula would not pose
much of a problem. The moment Caligula returned to
Rome, one of his guards could assassinate Caligula in broad
daylight and there was no power in Rome that would dare
Sejanus was certain the die was cast in his favor. He
was wrong. The Fates had a nasty surprise for Sejanus.
Wrath of a Woman Scorned
No matter how
powerful a man is, if he is human, then he is vulnerable
somewhere. Even Achilles, the greatest warrior in all
of mythology, had a vulnerable spot that cost him his life.
enjoyed a powerful position, but he was still not in
complete control unless he could become Emperor. As
long as Tiberius lived, Sejanus worried that his activities
might be discovered by the old man.
If Sejanus had a weakness in the world, it would be his
disdain for women. Sejanus used women on his climb to
the top, but he failed to treat them properly when he
disposed of them. No one is angrier than a woman who has
been rejected in love. For that matter, nothing drives
a mother crazier than one who sees her children forcibly
taken from her by their father.
Sejanus was about to learn the hard way that you should be
careful with people you have relationships with because when
some people get hurt (real or imagined) they might go crazy
trying to get revenge.
Sejanus' first mistake
was his treatment of Apicata, the wife of his three
children. Once he had his sights set on marriage to Livilla,
Sejanus had the sense to divorce his wife well ahead of time before
approaching Tiberius. At a certain point after the divorce,
Sejanus decided his children should come live with him permanently at the
palace. In an act of sheer spite, Sejanus made certain his former wife had no access to the
children. Even though she had done nothing wrong, Apicata had lost her children.
Apicata was beside herself with grief.
mistake was assuming his mistress Livilla would cooperate with
Tiberius' strange offer for Sejanus to marry her daughter.
Tiberius' reason for rejecting Sejanus' request was oddly paternal.
He was concerned that his niece and former daughter in law Livilla,
having been the sister of the powerful Germanicus, first heir to the
throne, and the wife of the powerful Castor, second heir to the
throne, would never be satisfied in the long run married to a lowly
Praetorian Guard like Sejanus!
Sejanus was apoplectic
with this remark. Lowly Praetorian Guard? Tiberius was so completely in the dark as to
what was really going on that he had no idea Sejanus had become the
most powerful man in the world, more powerful in most ways than even Tiberius
However, on the other
hand, Tiberius needed Sejanus. Why not throw the dog a bone?
Tiberius offered him the hand of his forlorn granddaughter
Livia Julia. And why was she forlorn? It seems poor Livia Julia had recently
been engaged to Nero
Caesar, one of the men Sejanus had just exiled from
Rome and soon to be dead. Tiberius figured a marriage to Sejanus might just
perk her up a bit!
Ah, those romantic
Roman men. Aren't they special!
Showdown with Livilla
By definition, any
woman who murders her husband in cold blood is
probably not the most reasonable woman in the world to begin with. Now that
Sejanus was betrothed to his future wife Livia Julia, he assumed his
partner in crime would be a bit miffed, but eventually come around to the
After all, this is what they wanted... with this marriage, Sejanus
could now become
emperor and Livilla would be the true power behind the throne.
And, uh, plus Livilla's sexy daughter would become Empress.
What good mother doesn't want to see her daughter become Empress? Wouldn't
this be wonderful?
If I may interject something, I don't think Sejanus understood
women very well. When Sejanus accepted Tiberius' offer
to marry the young lady, he may have overestimated his
ability to charm Livilla into acceptance.
The first words out of her astonished mouth, "Oh,
you'd like that, wouldn't you! Get to be Emperor, sleep with the mother, sleep
with the daughter or maybe sleep with both of us at the same time. I'll
be damned if I am going to let you get away with this!"
Sejanus did his best
to reason with the woman. Why would she not cooperate?
Are you out of your mind? You will marry that girl
over my dead body!!" No truer words were
If he had any brains, Sejanus would have told Tiberius he
loved Livilla and wanted to make her happy... and stuck to
his guns. Oh well, it might too much to expect
a monster like Sejanus to suddenly develop sensitivity towards
women. Like most
Roman men, he was used to treating women like property.
Sejanus expected Livilla would eventually toe the line and accept
her fate. He was wrong. Dead wrong, as they say.
This mistake would cost him his life.
Apicata Strikes Back
stripped of her children is just like a wounded she-bear.
She will do whatever it takes to get her children back.
Sejanus would not let her see her children under any
circumstances. Apicata decided she would speak to
Antonia, the only woman in the Imperial Family with any
sense of decency.
aware of her daughter Livilla's infatuation with Sejanus.
Antonia was also aware that Sejanus had brought the children
to the palace and denied their mother access to them.
Unfortunately, Antonia explained that she had no control
over the behavior of Sejanus. There was nothing she
could do. Surely Apicata already knew this. Why did Apicata come to her in the first
That is when
Apicata dropped a bombshell. A slave of Livilla had
whispered to Apicata that she had seen Livilla mixing the
poison administered to her husband Castor. Antonia's
mouth dropped open with shock. Her own daughter had
just been accused of murder!
That is when
Antonia told Apicata she didn't believe a word she said.
Furthermore it was time for Apicata to leave.
the quiet of her bedroom, Antonia despaired. A powerful
seed of doubt had been planted in her mind.
the household was in an uproar at the moment. In a
rage, Livilla had told her mother that Sejanus was thinking
of marrying her daughter. Now Livilla was throwing
things and cursing vehemently. She had been in her room
all day busily
writing some letter. Plus Antonia's granddaughter Livia
Julia wasn't doing very well with the marriage idea.
The poor girl had been sick in her room throwing up for the
That is when
Antonia turned white. The thought had just crossed her
mind that Livilla was so angry she might be capable of
poisoning her own daughter!
Livilla didn't like this turn of events one damn bit.
The father of her illegitimate son Gemellus was Sejanus. Livilla had murdered her husband
Castor to further the
career of Sejanus. Without Livilla, Sejanus
would be nothing more than an exalted security guard.
Livilla had risked her own life time and again to help
Sejanus in his rise to power. If their affair was ever
revealed, it would be her death sentence. Probably her
son's death sentence too.
sakes, Livilla had murdered her husband Castor, the only
child of the Emperor
Tiberius, to help Sejanus! And this is what she
got in return, a bunch of stupid empty promises?
As the reward for all her
sacrifice, Livilla assumed Sejanus couldn't wait to get her own daughter in
bed and make the girl the Empress of Rome! Damn
it! That man belonged to her, not her daughter.
Furthermore, that was Livilla's throne! That throne
belonged to her. Livilla would be the Empress, not her silly daughter.
Then Livilla smiled. What would her daughter think if
she knew the man she was about to marry had murdered her
now 44, but she
still a remarkably beautiful woman.
Livilla was not about to tolerate this insult. If
Sejanus thought he was going to marry her nubile 26 year old
daughter, have children with her and rule the Empire while Livilla sat in the shadows, he had better think twice!
mad. Fighting mad. Unfortunately, there was one
problem. Sejanus had refused to come see her till she
calmed down. Thanks to his Praetorian Guard, she was
not allowed to see him. Damn him! Livilla
decided to play hardball. It was time for blackmail.
wouldn't talk to her, then she had no choice but to write
him a letter. First Livilla wrote down references to the plot to murder
Castor. Then she demanded Sejanus agree to murder
Tiberius immediately or she would expose him. Next Livilla summoned Aelia, Sejanus' sister,
to the palace and handed her the sealed letter. Livilla
told Aelia to make sure that only Sejanus see
restless. Worried about
Livilla and worried about her granddaughter, Antonia walked
through the house from room to room. As she
entered Livilla's room, she noticed discarded paper in the
trash. Curious, she fished out the paper and unraveled
it. Now as Antonia, sister-in-law to Tiberius,
read the document, she gasped. The letters revealed
the truth of Castor's murder and Sejanus' plot to overthrow
the aging emperor. Antonia's eyes grew wide.
This man had to be stopped. Tiberius had to know.
returned to her chambers armed with Livilla's discarded,
papers. There she slumped into a chair. What had
the world come to?
Antonia was one
of the most prominent women in Rome. She was 67 years
old. She had long been respected for her
virtue and grace. Antonia was the very definition of
the word 'noble'.
special because she was one of the few people in Rome liked
by both the first and the second Emperors. Augustus
was a Julian, Tiberius was a Claudian, and the two men hated
each other. Consequently most people took sides.
Antonia was the youngest daughter
of Mark Antony. During a truce in their struggle to
control Rome, Octavian had proposed that Antony marry his
sister Octavia. Antonia soon became the favorite niece
of Octavia's younger brother Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor.
Although Augustus was the man who
had conquered Antonia's father and caused his death, her
ties to Antony were remote. After all, Antony had been
in Egypt during her entire childhood. Antony had
ditched Antonia's mother Octavia to run off with Cleopatra,
so Antonia's only loyalty was to her mother and famous
married Drusus, brother of Tiberius.
That brought Antonia, a Julian by birth, to the Claudian
side. Through marriage, Antonia became a bridge
between the two dominant family lines. Antonia and
Drusus had three
children together - Germanicus, the murdered Prince of Rome,
Livilla, the wicked murderer of Tiberius' son Castor, and
Claudius, a stuttering, twitching fool of a man.
grown up a lonely kid. Antonia had never shown much
warmth for her weakling child. Antonia was ashamed she
had produced such a weak offspring. Antonia was said
to have done her duty in raising Claudius, but she never
loved him. In fact, she could barely tolerate being
around him. One stutter or one nervous twitch and
Antonia had to leave the room. Due to his constant illnesses and physical disabilities,
would constantly put him down. Antonia would say Claudius was a nothing,
saying that Claudius was
a man whom nature had not finished but rather had merely
begun. Whenever Antonia accused anyone of stupidity,
she would exclaim, "Why that man is a bigger fool than even my son
matter, Livilla despised her brother Claudius. Once
upon hearing rumor of a prophesy that Claudius would be
Emperor some day, Livilla publicly ridiculed Claudius,
saying this would be the worst thing that ever happened to
the people of Rome. Around the Palace, Claudius became
the official Imperial Misfit, a clumsy, harmless, stuttering
large part to the low opinion Claudius' own mother had of
him, no one else in Rome had any respect for the man at all.
He was in fact regarded as little better than an idiot by
the imperial family and left to his own devices. This was
the saving of him, of course. In that world of murderous
power struggle, no one took Claudius seriously as a rival,
no one thought him worth killing. This enabled him to live
to the advanced age of 64
while all the likely heirs were being murdered right and
Antonia's stay in the Palace, all manner of people had died
mysteriously or had been exiled never to be seen again. Antonia frowned.
For example, her brother Marcellus was heir apparent to
Augustus until he died of a mysterious fever in 23 BC.
For that matter, her own husband Drusus had died during a
under suspicious circumstances. All three of Julia's
boys had met very strange ends - Lucius, Gaius, and Postumus. Her
own son Germanicus had
been poisoned. Recently Tiberius and Sejanus had
exiled both of Germanicus' sons, boys who were potential
heirs to the throne. Death lined every corner of
every corridor in the Imperial Palace.
heirs had met their death. It was obviously very
dangerous to be a male with royal blood in him!
Interestingly, not one significant female on either side of
the family had died under suspicious circumstances.
Was it bad luck or something darker? Now here in
front of her very eyes, Livilla's evil letter confirmed that
her own daughter had murdered
her husband Castor. Antonia breathed deeply. No,
it wasn't bad luck. There were too many bodies to
ascribe it to chance.
Miraculously, as the direct nephew
of Tiberius, Claudius was practically the last man standing
with any royal blood in him. His strange cousin
Caligula was the only other male still alive with royal
blood. Antonia frowned again. Tiberius had never once openly considered
Claudius as a successor. No one with ambition
considered Claudius any threat at all, including Sejanus.
The more Antonia thought about it, she supposed the only
reason Claudius was still alive was due to the fact that he
was such a weakling and a fool. Why bother killing
Now her mind
returned to the problem. How was
Antonia going to get this letter past Sejanus' web of spies
to her brother in law Tiberius?
Antonia had an
idea. Why not let her idiot son Claudius deliver
letter to Tiberius? Everyone knew Claudius was too stupid to
bother searching. No one would ever suspect a moron
of anything devious.
surmised, Claudius got past Sejanus' security with a minimum
of scrutiny. Claudius had hidden the letters within a
massive document on the history of Carthage that he had
was alone with Tiberius, he presented Livilla's letter to
his uncle Tiberius along with an explanatory letter from
widowed sister-in-law. Antonia was completely within
Tiberius' trust, perhaps because he knew his sister in law had little involvement
in political affairs. In her letter, she accused Sejanus of
a plot to seize power.
Tiberius had been mulling over Agrippina's warnings about
Sejanus from several months earlier. Anything
Agrippina said, Tiberius took with a grain of salt.
However Antonia was another matter entirely. Her word
was solid gold. Tiberius made a decision.
Sejanus was the true enemy of the state.
But how to
deal with such a dangerous and powerful man?
Tiberius showed the letter to Caligula, his nephew that was
visiting him in Capri. Caligula, a strange but truly
cunning fellow, had a suggestion. To curb a dog, use
another dog. Caligula was familiar with a man named
Macro, Sejanus' second in command. Caligula had no
doubt Macro was just as ruthless as Sejanus.
if Macro was loyal to Sejanus. Caligula smiled and
replied, "Probably. But he is also ambitious.
Number Two always wants to move up to Number One. It
is the nature of ambition."
right. Macro was very interested.
The Fall of
Tiberius was in no position to move quickly. He was
not sure who in Rome was still loyal to him. Now
Tiberius became the one creating the treacherous plot for a
change. Using Macro as an intermediary, Tiberius
delicately prepared an ambush for Sejanus. Macro
quietly formed a unit of Praetorians who would be loyal to
him when the time came.
In 30 AD,
Sejanus had been betrothed to Livilla's daughter Livia
Julia, a girl who was also Tiberius'
granddaughter. Sejanus’ family connection to the Imperial
house was now imminent. Sejanus must have believed the
empire was within his grasp.
In 31 AD, Sejanus held the
Consulship with the Emperor as his colleague, an honor
Tiberius reserved only for heirs to the throne. At this
point, Tiberius sent Sejanus a message that he was about to
receive a higher honor as well.
It was now
October 18, 31 AD. When he was
summoned to a meeting of the Senate, Sejanus arrived expecting to receive a share of the tribunician power.
He walked into the Senate with a huge smile on his face.
Tiberius had sent a speech to be read at the ceremony.
The early part of the speech praised Sejanus and his
accomplishments in the service. The man who would be
Emperor beamed with pride.
Suddenly the speech took a decided turn for the worse.
Now Tiberius' written word accused Sejanus of high treason.
Following the denouncement from Tiberius, it didn't take
much for the Senate to instantly turn on Sejanus.
Angry men called for his death and stormed towards Sejanus.
Stunned by the sudden turn of events, Sejanus called for his
security detail, but no one appeared. During the
speech, Macro and his personal detail of the Praetorian
Guard had surprised Sejanus' men outside the Senate and
disarmed them. Now Macro's men entered the Senate and
dragged Sejanus outside.
a bloody purge
erupted in Rome. Sejanus was carried by a mob to the
Gemonian Stairs, a flight of steps located
near the Forum. Nicknamed the Stairs of Mourning,
the stairs were infamous in Roman history as a place of
execution. Sejanus was immediately stabbed and
strangled to death. Then the mob ripped his body to
shreds. Practically his entire family and many of his followers
shared the same fate. All day long, enemies of
the state were dragged to the Gemonian Stairs and executed.
By nightfall, there were dozens of dead bodies scattered on
the steps. A huge pool of blood had collected at the
bottom of the stairs. It was a gruesome site.
Rome was a savage city and Sejanus suffered a savage death.
Not everyone who died was guilty. Sadly, among the innocent victims of the purge
were Sejanus' children. Aelius Strabo, the eldest, was the
first to be executed. Upon learning of her son's death, Sejanus'
former wife Apicata committed suicide, but not before
addressing a letter to Tiberius claiming that Castor had
been poisoned with the complicity of Livilla. Angered
at the news of this murder, Castor’s
cupbearer Lygdus and Livilla's physician
Eudemus were now
tortured. Both men seemed to confirm Apicata’s accusation.
death was even more gruesome. Out of
regard for Antonia's service, Tiberius made sure that Livilla
was handed over to her
mother for punishment. Antonia had the woman throw in
her bedroom and had the door sealed. Then Antonia
refused to feed the girl. Screaming like a banshee for hours
and days on end, Livilla's wails fell upon deaf ears.
When Antonia was asked how she could bear the horrible
lamentations of her daughter, Antonia smiled wanly and
replied, "Listening to Livilla is my punishment for bearing
starved her to death, Antonia took her own life.
created an atmosphere of fear in Rome, controlling a network
of informers and spies whose incentive to accuse others of
treason was a share in the accused's property after their
conviction and death. Treason trials became commonplace; few
members of the Roman aristocracy were safe. The trials
played up to Tiberius' growing paronoia, which made him more
reliant on Sejanus, as well as allowing Sejanus to eliminate
Tiberius, perhaps sensitive to this ambition, rejected
Sejanus's initial proposal to marry Livilla in 25 AD, but
later had withdrawn his objections so that
But then he
brought about his own downfall by plotting the elimination
of nineteen year-old Gaius.
The key moment was the arrival of a letter sent to the
emperor by his sister-in-law Antonia warning him of Sejanus.
Tiberius might have retired to his island for his dislike of
politics and intrigues. But when he saw teh necessity he
could still ruthlessly exercise power. Command of the
pratorian guard was secretely transferred to one of
Tiberius' friends, Naevius Cordus Sertorius Macro, who on 18
October AD 31 had Sejanus arrested during a meeting of the
senate. A letter by the emperor to the senate was then read
out expressing Tiberius' suspicions. Sejanus was duly
executed, his corpse dragged through the streets and thrown
into the Tiber. His family and many of his supporters
suffered similar fates. the
Julius Caesar Nero, known as Gemellus, ( AD 19– AD 37 or 38)
was the son of Drusus and Livilla, the grandson of Tiberius,
and the cousin of Gaius Caligula. Gemellus is a nickname
meaning "the twin". His twin brother, Tiberius Germanicus
Caesar, died in infancy.
Gemellus' father Drusus died mysteriously when Gemellus was
only four. It is believed that Drusus died at the hands of
the Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus. His mother Livilla was put
to death because she had been plotting with Sejanus to
overthrow Tiberius, and also because she may have poisioned
Not much is known about Gemellus' life, as he was largely
ignored by most of the Imperial family. So much so that one
of the major landmarks of his youth, the toga virilis ,
wasn't celebrated until he was eighteen. The normal age to
celebrate this is fourteen years.
At the age of twelve Gemellus was summoned to the island of
Capri where Tiberius lived, along with his cousin Caligula.
Tiberius made both Caligula and Gemellus joint-heirs, but it
was clear that Tiberius favored Caligula over his own
grandson. Livilla had been Sejanus' lover for a number of
years before their deaths, and many figured that Gemellus
was really Sejanus' son.
Tiberius died March 16, 37, and Caligula became Emperor.
Caligula made Gemellus his adopted son not long afterwards,
but ordered him killed in late 37 or early 38 for allegedly
plotting against Caligula while the Emperor was ill.
Unfortunately, little has been written about Gemellus. Most
of the information we know about him has been connected to
material about Caligula.
end of Book VII of the Annals, Tacitus evaluates the life of
Tiberius. He says:
On his return from Rhodes he ruled the emperor's now
heirless house for twelve years, and the Roman world, with
absolute sway, for about twenty-three. His character too had
its distinct periods. It was a bright time in his life and
reputation, while under Augustus he was a private citizen or
held high offices; a time of reserve and crafty assumption
of virtue, as long as Germanicus and Drusus were alive.
Again, while his mother lived, he was a compound of good and
evil; he was infamous for his cruelty, though he veiled his
debaucheries, while he loved or feared Sejanus. Finally, he
plunged into every wickedness and disgrace, when fear and
shame being cast off, he simply indulged his own
None of the
Julio-Claudians were succeeded by their sons; only one of
them had a legitimate son survive him. The ancient
historical writers, chiefly Suetonius and Tacitus, write
from the point of view of the Roman senatorial aristocracy,
and portray the Emperors in generally negative terms,
whether from preference for the Roman Republic or love of a
good scandalous story.
Tacitus wrote this of the Julio-Claudian Emperors and
But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have
been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were
not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing
sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius,
Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were
falsified through terror, and after their death were written
under the irritation of a recent hatred.
Julius and Claudius were two Roman family names; in
classical Latin, they came second. Such names are inherited
from father to son; but a sonless Roman aristocrat would
quite commonly adopt an heir, who would also take the family
name - this could be done in his will. Thus (Gaius) Julius
Caesar adopted his sister's grandson, Gaius Octavius, who
became a Julius, eventually named Imperator Gaius Julius
Caesar Augustus, normally called in English Augustus, the
founder of the Empire. The next four emperors were closely
related, and all were named either Julius or Claudius by
birth or adoption.
Tiberius, the son of Augustus' wife Livia by her first
husband (thus Augustus' step-son), was born a Claudian but,
like Augustus before him, became a Julian upon his adoption.
Caligula, however, had both Julian and Claudian ancestry,
thus making him the first actual "Julio-Claudian" emperor.
He was also a direct descendant (a great grandson) of
Claudius was a Claudian, though like his great-uncle
Augustus Caesar, he was also descended from the Julian
family through his maternal grandmother Octavia Minor—sister
of Augustus—whose own maternal grandmother was Julia,
Nero, like Caligula before him, also bore Julian and
Claudian ancestry. Again like Caligula, Nero was a direct
descendant of (a great-great grandson) Augustus.
Although Augustus's succession plans were all but ruined due
to the deaths of more than several family members, including
many of his own descendants, in the end Tiberius remained
faithful to his predecessor's wishes that the next emperor
would hail from the Julian side of the Imperial Family.
Thus, on the death of Tiberius, his adopted son, Gaius
Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, ascended to the throne.
Not only did the new Caesar belong to both the Julii and the
Claudii, but he was also a direct descendant of Augustus
Caesar as well. More commonly remembered in history by his
childhood nickname Caligula, he was the third Roman Emperor
ruling from 37 to 41 AD.
When Tiberius died on 16 March 37 AD, Caligula was well
positioned to assume power, despite the obstacle of
Tiberius’s will, which named him and his cousin Tiberius
Gemellus as joint heirs. Caligula ordered Gemellus killed
within his first year. Backed by Naevius Sutorius Macro,
Caligula asserted himself as sole princeps.
There were several unsuccessful attempts made on Caligula's
life. The successful conspiracy that ended Caligula's life
was hatched by the disgruntled Praetorian Guard with backing
by the Senate. The historian Josephus claims that the
conspirators wished to restore the Republic while the
historian Suetonius claims their motivations were mostly
personal. On 24 January 41, the praetorian tribune Cassius
Chaerea and his men stopped Caligula alone in an underground
passage leading to a theater. They stabbed him to death.
Together with another tribune, Cornelius Sabinus, he killed
Caligula's wife Caesonia and their infant daughter Julia
Drusilla on the same day.
After Caligula’s death, the senate attempted and failed to
restore the Republic. Claudius, Caligula's uncle, became
emperor by the instigation of the Praetorian Guards.
Despite his lack of political experience, Claudius proved to
be an able administrator and a great builder of public
works. His reign saw an expansion of the empire, including
the invasion of Britain in 43 AD. He took a personal
interest in the law, presided at public trials, and issued
up to twenty edicts a day; however, he was seen as
vulnerable throughout his rule, particularly by the
nobility. Claudius was constantly forced to shore up his
position—resulting in the deaths of many senators. Claudius
also suffered tragic setbacks in his personal life.He
married 4 times and is referenced by Suetonius as being
easily manipulated. This is particularly evident during his
marriage to Agrippina the Younger.
Claudius' reign also included several attempts on his life.
In order to gain political support, he married Agrippina the
Younger and adopted her son Nero.
With his adoption on 25 February 50 Nero became heir to the
throne. Claudius died on 13 October 54 and Nero became
emperor. A number of ancient historians accuse Agrippina of
poisoning Claudius, but details on these private events vary
Nero became emperor in 54 at seventeen, the youngest Emperor
yet. Like his uncle Caligula before him, Nero was also a
direct descendant of Augustus Caesar, a fact which made his
ascension to the throne much easier and more smooth than it
had been for Tiberius or Claudius. Ancient historians
describe Nero's early reign as being strongly influenced by
his mother Agrippina, his tutor Seneca, and the Praetorian
Prefect Burrus, especially in the first year. In 55, Nero
began taking on a more active role as an administrator. He
was consul four times between 55 and 60. Nero consolidated
power over time through the execution and banishment of his
rivals and slowly usurped authority from the Senate.
In 64 Rome burned. Nero enacted a public relief effort as
well as large reconstruction projects. To fund this, the
provinces were heavily taxed following the fire.
By 65, senators complained that they had no power left and
this led to the Pisonian conspiracy. The conspiracy failed
and its members were executed. Vacancies after the
conspiracy allowed Nymphidius Sabinus to rise in the
In late 67 or early 68, Vindex, the governor of Gallia
Lugdunensis in Gaul, rebelled against the tax policies of
Nero. Lucius Virginius Rufus, the governor of superior
Germany was sent to put down the rebellion. To gain support,
Vindex called on Galba, the governor of Hispania Citerior in
Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and
Portugal), to become emperor. Virginius Rufus defeated
Vindex's forces and Vindex committed suicide. Galba was
declared a public enemy and his legion was confined in the
city of Clunia.
Nero had regained the control of the empire militarily, but
this opportunity was used by his enemies in Rome. By June of
68 the senate voted Galba the emperor and declared Nero a
public enemy. The praetorian guard was bribed to betray Nero
by Nymphidius Sabinus, who desired to become emperor
Nero reportedly committed suicide with the help of his
scribe Epaphroditos. With his death, the Julio-Claudian
dynasty came to an end. Chaos ensued in the Year of the Four
It is interesting how commonly the blood relationship of
great-uncle /great-nephew is found between the rulers of
Augustus was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar (and his
Caligula was the great-nephew of Tiberius (and his adopted
Claudius was the great-nephew of Augustus.
Nero was the great-nephew of Claudius (and his adopted son).
The other recurring relationship between emperor and
successor is that of stepfather/stepson, a relationship not
by blood but by marriage:
Tiberius was Augustus's stepson.
Nero, as well as being Claudius's great-nephew, was also his
stepson (his mother Agrippina being Claudius's niece, and
also Claudius's fourth wife).
The uncle/nephew relationship also is prominent: Tiberius
was Claudius's uncle, and Claudius was Caligula's uncle.
No Julio-Claudian emperor was a blood descendant of his
immediate predecessor. Both Tiberius and Claudius had male
direct descendants (Tiberius's grandson Tiberius Gemellus,
Claudius's son Britannicus) available for the succession,
but their great-nephews were preferred.
The fact that ordinary father-son (or grandfather-grandson)
succession did not occur has contributed to the image of the
Julio-Claudian court presented in Robert Graves's I,
Claudius, a dangerous world where scheming family members
were all too ready to murder the obvious, direct heirs so as
to bring themselves, their own immediate families, or their
lovers closer to the succession.
None of the Julio-Claudians were succeeded by their sons; only
one of them had a legitimate son survive him. The ancient
historical writers, chiefly Suetonius and Tacitus, write from
the point of view of the Roman senatorial aristocracy, and
portray the Emperors in generally negative terms, whether from
preference for the Roman Republic or love of a good scandalous
Also suspected of
connivance in his death was Tiberius' chief advisor, Sejanus,
who would then turn the empire into a frightful tyranny
throughout the 20s, before himself being removed and executed by
Tiberius in a bloody purge in 31.
year-old Nero Caesar and sixteen year-old Drusus Caesar.
Tiberius' behavior in governing matters, especially in
interaction with the Senate was confusing at best.
coupled with his own liberal use of the treason laws, certainly
left the Senate frightened and confused. This relationship would
never improve, and in fact would worsen, thanks to the rise of
men like Sejanus. Tiberius' would be blasted by later Roman
historians, all of whom would have ties to the Senatorial elite,
and therefore, his legacy was permanently
stained. However, Tiberius was faced with more trouble than that
caused by political uncertainty between he and the Senate.
The reality of this was
seen in 31 when Tiberius was forced to rely upon his own cohors
praetoria against partisans of Sejanus. Although the Praetorian Guard
proved faithful to the aging Tiberius, their potential political power
had been made clear.
Among the many excellent utterances of hers that
are reported are the following. Once, when some naked men met her and
were to be put to death in consequence, she saved their lives by saying
that to chaste women such men are no whit different from statues. 5 When
someone asked her how and by what course of action she had obtained such
a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was by being
scrupulously chaster herself, doing gladly whatever pleased him, not
meddling with any of his affairs, and, in particular, by pretending
neither to hear or nor to notice the favourites of his passion. 6 Such
was the character of Livia. The arch voted to her, however, was not
built, for the reason that Tiberius promised to construct it at his own
expense; for, as he hesitated to annul the decree in so many words, he
made it void in this way, by not allowing the work to be done at public
expense nor yet attending to it himself.
between republic and empire is expresses more blatantly through the
personal conflicts between individual characters and their beliefs.
After the death of Julius Caesar, Rome had the opportunity to become
a republic, and Claudius’ grandfather was one of the main proponents
for the cause. However, Livia preferred to see Rome as an empire; it
was this belief that prompted her to divorce Claudius’ grandfather
and married Augustus instead. Through her manipulation of Augustus,
Livia was able to shape Rome into an empire and assure its
continuation after Augustus’ death. Many of the murders that Livia
commits can be recognized as an effort to maintain an empire instead
of a republic: Marcellus, Agrippa, and Drusus all die because they
threaten the cause of the empire.
At the beginning of
the novel, Claudius is a strong advocate of a republic, mirroring
the political sentiments of his father and grandfather. However, by
the end of the novel, he realizes that Livia’s preoccupation with
empire is well-founded. The empire of Rome, though problematic,
provides stability and prosperity to all Roman territory. A
republic, on the other hand, would create a state of civil war and
chaos. When he is crowned emperor by the mob of soldiers at the end
of the novel, Claudius cannot help but plead for Rome to become a
republic. Yet, his pleas are half-hearted, and he soon accepts his
position: he realizes that his republican sentiments are idealistic,
and an empire is the only form of government that can succeed.
I, Claudius | Introduction
The initial reason Robert Graves set out to write I, Claudius (1934)
was for money. Living on the Spanish island of Mallorca with the
poet Laura Riding, Graves fell into some financial difficulties,
which he hoped to resolve through the writing of the historical
epic. The book, the first of two fictionalized accounts of Claudius,
the Roman emperor from 41 to 54 A.D., was a great success. Within a
couple months it had gone into four printings both in the United
States and in Great Britain. In 1937, one of Hollywood’s biggest
directors, Josef von Sternberg, made a failed attempt at filming
Graves’s epic, a failure that only enhanced the book’s growing
Told from the point of view of the stuttering, physically deformed
Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (most commonly referred to
as “Claudius,”), I, Claudius covers the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius
and Caligula, and ends at the point of Claudius himself reluctantly
assuming the position of emperor shortly following Caligula’s
Laden heavily with political intrigue, sexual depravity, incest,
conspiracies, family strife, war and pagan rituals, I, Claudius was
seen by contemporary readers as an allegory of the current times and
was awarded both the James Tait Black and the Hawthornden Prizes in
While the book takes poetic and historical license in several key
areas, it has been widely hailed as a masterful portrayal of the
Roman Empire and the families that ruled it. In Graves’s version of
events, Claudius was seen by most around him as a bumbling,
deformed, and mentally handicapped, but generally harmless,
individual who, because of those traits, was able to survive the
capriciousness of Tiberius and the madness of Caligula. While those
around him plotted endlessly for political power and revenge,
Claudius kept to himself, quietly recording his history of Rome and
of the Etruscans, but all the while keeping a keen eye on the
Empire’s goingson— observations of which formed the basis of
Chapters 1 – 6
The Robert Graves novel I, Claudius begins with a depiction of the
title character as a child. Claudius suffers from many ailments that
cause him to stutter and give him a permanent limp. Although reviled
by most of his relatives, he is prophesized by a sibyl to one day
rule Rome, and as a young child a tiny wolf cub, which eagles had
been fighting over, falls into his arms, a sign that he will become
the protector of Rome.
Considered by most to be an idiot, Claudius is given the love of
history through his tutor Athenodorus, and he eventually grows to
write several historical studies, of which I, Claudius is one.
Claudius's grandmother Livia is the most important figure in these
early chapters. "Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled
Augustus," Claudius writes, and he describes how his grandmother
turns Augustus into an instrument for her ambition to take control
of Rome through her son Tiberius.
For starters, Livia uses her position to create discord between
Marcellus, Augustus's son-in-law and leading candidate to succeed
Augustus, and Agrippa, Augustus's oldest friend and most successful
general. The end result of Livia's complex ruse is that Marcellus
eventually dies of mysterious ailments (this is the first of many
hints that implicitly tie Livia to the rash of food poisonings that
infect Rome for generations) and Agrippa is left free to marry
Augustus's daughter Julia. Nine years later, in 12 B.C., after
Agrippa dies while alone in the country, Julia is free to marry
Tiberius, a man Claudius describes as "morose, reserved, and cruel."
Claudius's father Drusus, on the other hand, is a virtuous man. A
successful general widely known for his Republican values, he
suffers a riding accident on the Rhine. Tiberius rushes to his side,
but it is too late. Drusus is dying of gangrene, and his final
words, whispered to Tiberius and in reference to Livia, are, "Rome
has a severe mother."
With Drusus dead, Livia's plan to rule Rome through Tiberius moves
forward. But now Gaius and Lucius, the sons of Julia and direct
descendants to Augustus, are in her way. Gaius has become the
favorite to follow Augustus as emperor. Livia, in another cunning
set of moves, succeeds in getting Tiberius relocated outside of
Rome, leaving his wife Julia behind. All along Livia had been
feeding Julia an elixir she claims will make her irresistible to
Tiberius, but it is actually an aphrodisiac that only increases
Julia's sexual appetite. With Tiberius away, Julia goes wild, and
her nightly orgies become legendary. When Augustus learns of Julia's
activities, he banishes her for life. Meanwhile Gaius, who is sent
away to Asia Minor, is given the wrong treatment for a battle wound
and is forced for health reasons to retire, and Lucius, in transit
to Spain, dies mysteriously. Thus, with no one else remaining to
take over as emperor, Augustus has to accept Tiberius back to Rome
and adopt him and Postumus jointly as his sons and primary
candidates to succeed him.
Chapters 7 – 14
After his first love is poisoned, and after Livia's plans to have
Claudius married to a girl named Aemilia are thwarted when Aemilia's
parents are accused of a conspiracy against August, Claudius is
forced to marry the six-foot-two inch Urgulanilla. A week after his
marriage, Claudius comes across Pollio and Livy, two of Rome's most
famous historians. In the course of discussions, Pollio tells
Claudius how Claudius's father and grandfather were poisoned.
Henceforth Claudius would be on the look-out for further clues to
support Pollio's contention.
Meanwhile, Livia and Augustus's views of Postumus begin to change
for the worse, and Livia conspires with Livilla, Castor's wife,
against Postumus by inviting him to her room and seducing him. As
soon as he embraces her, she cries out and Livia immediately breaks
through the door and has Postumus arrested. Postumus is banished for
life and disinherited, but not before he can tell Claudius the
entire story of Livia's conspiracy against him. With Postumus gone,
the lone heir to Augustus is now Tiberius.
Soon after returning to Rome to help the aging Augustus, Germanicus
learns from Castor of Livia's plot to banish Postumus, and in turn
he tells Augustus. On the pretence of taking another trip to one of
the colonies, Augustus visits Postumus on his island to help him
escape. Livia catches wind of Augustus's plan, and assuming he would
bring Postumus back to Rome and restore him to favor, she has to act
quickly. She knows that with Postumus restored, her own life will be
in danger. Coincidentally, Augustus falls sick, and though he eats
only from the common table and of the figs he himself has picked,
out of fear of being poisoned by Livia, he dies.
Prior to his death, Augustus expresses to Claudius his deep
apologies for how he has been treated throughout his life, and says
that he has taken care of a certain "document" and that Claudius
will one day be compensated. Claudius assumes Augustus is referring
to his will, and surmises that the emperor has come to learn of
Livia's conspiracies. But Augustus did not safeguard his changes
well enough, and the previous version of the will, which names
Tiberius as successor, is read to the Senate. Livia finally gets her
wish, and when Postumus is reported killed by a captain of the
guard, her final problem, it seems, is solved.
Chapters 15 – 34
Soon rumors that Postumus is still alive begin circulating through
Rome. The rumor proves true, but Tiberius is able to catch him and
have him tortured and killed.
Roman troops in the Rhine mutiny upon Augustus's death, angry over
the few shares they are given. Germanicus, remaining faithful to
Tiberius, borrows money from Claudius and pays the men under the
pretence that the money has come directly from Tiberius. In Rome,
Sejanus, Tiberius's Commander of the Guards, begins poisoning the
emperor's mind against Germanicus with several lies. Sejanus had
also forms a group of professional informers whose job it is to
infiltrate the populous for the purpose of weeding out Tiberius's
potential opponents. When Germanicus is sent with his family,
including his son Caligula, to the East, Sejanus revives Tiberius's
fears by reporting a statement that Germanicus allegedly says in
front of one of Sejanus's secret agents. Livia and Tiberius then
send a man named Gnaeus Piso to work with Germanicus. Piso also
reports back statements construed to make Germanicus appear
unfaithful to the emperor. Soon Germanicus finds that his orders to
his regiments or cities are not being followed; they are all being
overridden by contradictory ones from Piso.
Germanicus soon falls ill and starts smelling "death" in his house.
A superstitious man, he sleeps with a talisman, or good luck charm,
under his pillow. A slave soon reports finding the body of a dead
baby beneath the house, and soon similar discoveries are made
throughout the house. After several strange and near-hallucinatory
experiences, Germanicus becomes certain that Piso is trying to
murder him through black magic. Germanicus dies, and for years the
murder remains a mystery. Aggripina returns with her children to
Rome, where the public grieves for the popular Germanicus for days.
Sejanus continues to consolidate his power and even tries to become
related to the imperial family by marrying his four-year-old
daughter to Claudius's son Drusillus. But a few days later Drusillus
is found dead with a pear stuck in his throat. Soon Sejanus, Livia
and Livilla, Castor's wife, conspire against Castor, who has just
been named Protector of the People by Tiberius, a sign that Tiberius
is aware of Sejanus's ambitions and intends to check them. The
conspiracy works, and Castor quickly falls out of favor with
Tiberius. Soon thereafter he falls ill with symptoms of consumption
Treason trials soon proliferate throughout Rome, and Sejanus once
again plots to gain entrance into the imperial family by arranging
Claudius's divorce and marrying his adopted sister Aelia to
Tiberius, getting old and weak, retires to Capri, thus leaving
control of Rome in the hands of Sejanus. He remains there eleven
more years until his death, practicing acts too obscene for Claudius
Livia calls on Claudius and confesses all of her murders, including
those of Claudius's father and son, as well as Agrippa, Lucius,
Marcellus and Gaius. She also tells him of the prophecies that
Germanicus's son, Caligula, will be emperor, and that Claudius will
avenge Caligula's death. Livia also makes Claudius promise to deify
her when he becomes emperor. In 29 A.D., Livia finally dies.
Under Sejanus's rule, Rome suffers from endless capricious arrests
and executions. Claudius's mother happens to find drafts of letters
between Livilla and Sejanus, implying a conspiracy to kill Tiberius.
She sends Tiberius the letters, and Tiberius has Sejanus arrested
for treason. After Sejanus's gruesome execution, a whole crop of
equally grim executions follow.
In his final years, Tiberius indicates Caligula as his successor.
After Tiberius's death, the Senate confirms Caligula's accession,
and in the first days of his rule, Caligula generously pays off
Tiberius's debts, observes the terms of Tiberius's and Livia's will,
doubles the pay to the army, and sends millions of gold pieces from
the treasury into general circulation. General amnesty is declared,
and when Caligula falls ill with what is called a "brain fever," the
popular consternation is so great that thousands of people stand in
vigil day and night outside of the palace.
When Caligula "recovers," however, one of his first acts is to call
Claudius into his room where he reveals to his uncle his
"metamorphosis" into a divine being and also reveals, with pride,
how as a young boy he had murdered his father Germanicus by
frightening him to death and stealing his talisman.
Quickly thereafter, Caligula indiscriminately begins killing friends
and family members, marries other men's wives at a whim, and puts
men to death for such crimes as selling hot water. When the treasury
is nearly depleted, Caligula empties the prisons by executing the
prisoners and feeding their bodies to wild beasts in the
amphitheaters. Claudius's own mother, rather than living under the
reign of this madness, kills herself.
Caligula's "divinity" continues; he argues daily with Neptune and
with the river gods. No one feels safe around Caligula, and when
Claudius is summoned to the palace one night, he assumes his end is
at hand. But instead he is awarded with a play in which Caligula
plays the "rosy-fingered Goddess," after which Claudius is given the
beautiful young Messalina in marriage.
Caligula grows madder by the day, until finally Cassius, one of his
soldiers, kills him during a festival. In the melee that follows,
soldiers tear through the palace, intent on plunder, and notice two
feet sticking out from behind a curtain. Claudius has tried to hide
out of fear for his life, but one of the soldiers recognizes him,
and the group proclaims him emperor. After a brief protest, he gives
in and is soon being carried around the court, fulfilling the
sibyl's prophecy and the omen of the wolf cub.
Caligula: The Imperial
Viewer Rating See Detailed Ratings
Posted January 15, 2009, 4:08 PM EST: It's hard to view this
film divorced from its controversy. To see spliced-in
pornographic acts performed in a film so sumptuously
photographed blurs our aesthetics; or it did mine, anyway.
Still, it is never boring. Along with the nearly constant
atrocities stemming from a complete abuse of power, it has
stunning visuals going for it. After watching "Caligula: The
Imperial Edition")[Blu-ray], and feting on all the extras,
I've concluded that, despite its many flaws, it is indeed a
good film. By all accounts, it should have been a GREAT
film, but as often is the case with ambitious visions,
conflicts led to too many unsatisfactory compromises.
Regardless, it has its merits.
To sum it up, Malcolm McDowell plays Caligula as cruel,
irreverent, and mirthfully insane. John Gielgud plays with
erect Shakespearean dignity Tiberius' only friend, the wise
Nerva, contemptuous of the inevitable scenario of Rome's
further decline at Caligula's ascendancy. Peter O'Toole
portrays Tiberius as sardonically embittered by the
trappings of power, his face scabby and scalp clumpy from
the ravages of syphilis. Once Tiberius dies -- all of the
actors with major theater credentials exit relatively early
-- Caligula has the playground of Rome all to himself.
I never saw the remastered DVD Special Edition released a
couple of years ago, so I'm unable to compare this Blu-ray
to it. But I can state with certainty that it's far superior
to the initial DVD issued back in the 1990s. Art director
and costume designer Danilo Donati gave cinematographer
Silvano Ippoliti a lively palette and grand designs to work
with, and it's illuminated here. The age of the print is
apparent at times, but the hi-def transfer revives the lost
vibrancy of the draped luxury and pillared architecture. And
aside from the brighter picture, there's a cornucopia tucked
away in the special features.
The extras include two versions of "The Making of Caligula";
interviews (about 30 minutes each) with director Tinto
Brass, actor John Steiner (who portrayed Longinus), and
Penthouse pet Lori Wagner (who in hindsight realizes she was
in way over her head); three audio commentaries (McDowell,
Helen Mirren, and on-set writer Ernest Volkman); an
alternate pre-release version of the film; and the usual
odds and ends (deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, and so
on). This edition comes with a 15-page booklet detailing the
film's troubled production, in which the essayist R. J.
Buffalo concludes passionately that a full restoration to
its original vision is in order. It's a hell-freezes-over
probability. From the bonus features, it's obvious that two
immutable creative forces were in direct conflict. Gore
Vidal, who wrote the original screenplay, eventually
disavowed the film when director Brass altered how Caligula
himself was presented. It must have come down to an
interpretation of the script, because Vidal's earlier
version is included in the extras, and a lot of the dialogue
was retained, some of it word for word. So on the one hand,
you have Brass wanting a sexually explicit romp; on the
other you have Vidal's depiction of Caligula as derisive of
the ruling class, and abuses power as mockery. So the result
is schizophrenic montage. In my judgment, Vidal's vision
edges out ahead slightly, as by the time you get to all that
explicit sex, they're not festivities you'd want to be
invited to. So the question remains, to whose vision should
a final edit be restored?
113 of 119 people found the following review helpful:
From the historical point of view, not as bad as many think,
September 16, 2001
By Dr. Peter Bartl
I will concentrate on the movie's historical accuracy (or
its lack of it), since the previous reviews seem to either
have overlooked it, or claimed that it is "historically
accurate", or on the opposite extreme, that it totally
"Caligula" does have some merit from the historical point of
view, surely already present in Gore Vidal's original
script. It's also very weak in many points.
The bare events of Caligula's life and reign are actually
quite accurate. It may surprise many viewers that most of
the secondary characters - Emperor Tiberius, Senator Nerva,
the praetorian prefect Macro, Tiberius's grandson and
Caligula's rival for the succession Gemellus, Caesonia,
Chaerea (who murdered Caligula), his sister Drusilla - were
all historical and, as far as the facts have come down to
us, their portrayal in "Caligula" was fairly accurate, at
least according to some ancient authors.
Tiberius did retire to the island of Capri in his last years
and did invite the elderly Nerva to join him there, and
ancient authors do claim that he indulged in sexual
perversions there. Nerva really committed suicide as shown
in the movie.
The conversations between Caligula, Nerva and Tiberius,
probably by Vidal, really reflect contemporary views and
issues - for instance, the deification of Julius Caesar and
Augustus, Tiberius's predecessors: Tiberius was totally
cynical about the whole thing, whereas Caligula firmly
believed it. Throughout the movie, many of Caligula's lines
come straight from ancient authors.
On the other hand, Nerva's comment on Caligula's "gift for
logic" seems to owe more to Camus than to ancient sources -
still, a nice touch, I thought.
Tiberius's murder by Caligula and Macro, Caligula's removal
of Macro and Gemellus, his incestuous relationship with
Drusilla, her death, his marriage to Caesonia, her giving
him a daughter, his increasing tyranny, his farcical
invasion of Germany and attempted invasion of Britain, and
his murder by his own guard - are all historical facts, and
on the whole not too inaccurately shown in the movie.
On the other hand, the movie's biggest weaknesses from the
historical point of view are (1) the way it *looks* and (2)
the suggestion that Caligula's and Tiberius's depravity were
somehow "normal", part of Rome's "decadence".
The sets and clothes all look more like something from a
Fellini film than from ancient Rome. Tiberius's palace on
Capri is perhaps the most unrealistic, along with that ship,
and the execution machine - and countless details.
The clothes aren't very realistic, either. Romans were more
casual about nudity than we are today, and I suppose that
their clothes might reveal much some times. But I doubt that
Roman ladies would be as casual about parading half-naked as
portrayed in the movie (I mean in normal situations, not the
Moreover, it's simply not true that "orgies" such as that
portrayed in the movie were common among the Roman upper
classes. Actually adultery - also on the part of males - was
an offense punishable by death, at least for the upper
classes (this didn't cover prostitution). The vast majority
of the Roman senatorial class would, and did, find behavior
such as that of Tiberius and Caligula scandalous.
However, Caligula's in cognito wanderings through Rome after
Drusilla's death give perhaps for the first time in a movie
a good impression of what ancient Rome actually was at night
- dangerous, dark, chaotic, where no person of means would
venture without an armed escort.
I also enjoyed the glimpse of what an emperor's routine
largely consisted of, with Tiberius and Caligula stamping
their seal onto endless piles of official documents.
"Caligula" was obviously intended to be mainly a
pornographic movie - Bob Guccione made sure of that. But it
also, at some point, was intended to have a core of
historical accuracy, which is why Gore Vidal was asked to
write the script.
This core is still present in the movie, and it's not true
that you don't learn anything of Roman history by watching
But of course, I know that that's not what most people will
watch it for. So perhaps Guccione was right.
Robert Graves’ novel opens with Claudius (or Tiberius Claudius
Drusus Nero Germanicus) introducing himself and describing his
personal motivation for writing this autobiography. According to
Claudius, the existence of the text was prophesied by the Sibyl at
Cumae, who declared that Claudius would “speak clear” in nineteen
hundred years by writing an accurate account of his life. With that
in mind, Claudius assures the readers that his narrative is a
factual account of all of the importance occurrences in his life,
particularly the events leading to his ascension as emperor.
Claudius’ autobiography is fated to tell the true story of his life
to future generations, and, in the same way, his position as emperor
is also pre-ordained.
Claudius begins the description of his life with the account of his
grandmother, Livia, and her marriages, first to his grandfather and
then to Augustus. An extremely ambitious and manipulative woman,
Livia attempts to convince Claudius' grandfather to seize control of
the Roman government and declare himself to be king. When he
refuses, Livia forces him to divorce her and marries Augustus
instead, realizing that Augustus will be much easier to manipulate
in order to achieve her political goals.
Over the next several years, Livia’s influence helps Augustus to
gain enough political power to become emperor. While Augustus is
emperor in name, Livia is still the true power and force behind his
position. With Augustus’ position firmly determined, Livia begins to
focus on ways to ensure that Tiberius, the eldest son from her first
marriage, will succeed Augustus as emperor and allow her to maintain
her position of power. In order to fulfill Tiberius’ succession,
Livia is forced to remove numerous political obstacles. She arranges
for the deaths of Agrippa, Marcellus, Lucius, and Gaius, each of
whom is favored by Augustus as a potential heir.
Livia even plots the death of her younger son, Drusus, because he
threatens her ability to rule through Tiberius after Augustus’
death. Drusus, who is also Claudius’ father, had become a celebrated
hero in the military campaigns in Germany and had sent a letter to
Tiberius complaining of Livia’s influence over Augustus. Shortly
after Livia intercepts this letter and sends her personal physician
to Drusus’ camp, Drusus dies, allowing Livia to continue
uninterrupted in her quest to make Tiberius the next emperor.
As a young child, Claudius is mistreated by the majority of his
family because of his sickly nature, limp, and constant stammer.
Antonia, Claudius’ mother, is particularly cruel to him, and Livia
and Augustus simply refuse to be in his presence. Claudius’ only
friends are Germanicus, his older brother, and Postumus, his cousin.
Claudius also gains a loyal friend in Athenodorus, a kindly
philosopher who acts as his tutor and teaches him the beauty of
history. Claudius’ appreciation for history is accentuated when he
meets the famous historians Pollio and Livy in the library. Claudius
decides to model his own historical writing after the detailed and
accurate accounts written by Pollio. Pollio also gives urges
Claudius to emphasize his stammer and constantly play the fool
around his family; otherwise, he will be viewed as a potential
threat and will not stay alive in the dangerous political climate.
The Sibyl’s prophecy at the beginning of the text is mirrored in one
particularly significant event in Claudius’ childhood. While
Claudius and his siblings are playing outside, two eagles begin to
fight in the air and a wounded wolf cub falls into Claudius’ arms.
An auger tells Claudius’ mother that the wolf cub represents Rome,
and one day, Claudius will be emperor. Although Antonia does not
treat Claudius any differently, she realizes that Claudius will
eventually be the savior of Rome, and Claudius notices that she
sometimes looks at him with a strange expression.
When Claudius is thirteen years old, he falls in love with Medullina
Camilla, and Augustus decides that the two should be married.
Furious at Augustus’ independent decision, Livia arranges for
Medullina Camilla to be poisoned and forces Claudius instead to
marry Urgulanilla, the monstrous daughter of her friend and
After a few years, Germanicus becomes a celebrated hero in Germany
just like his father. Livia begins to view Postumus as a potential
threat to Tiberius and decides to frame him by accusing him of
raping Livilla, Claudius’ elder sister. Although Postumus is
innocent, Augustus believes Livia and Livilla and imprisons Postumus
on a small island in the Mediterranean. With Postumus’ banishment,
all remaining political obstacles to Tiberius disappear and Tiberius
is certain to be Augustus’ heir. When Germanicus tells Augustus
about Livia’s plot against Postumus, Augustus realizes that Postumus
is innocent and secretly frees him from the island prison. When
Livia discovers what Augustus has done, she realizes that he intends
to restore Postumus to favor and remove Tiberius as his heir. Unable
to allow Augustus to ruin her plans, Livia poisons him. Without
Augustus’ protection, Postumus is forced to go into hiding and is
eventually discovered and executed.
With Augustus’ death, Tiberius becomes emperor. At first, Livia is
able to control Tiberius as easily as she had controlled Augustus,
but Tiberius chafes under her influence and begins to listen more to
Sejanus, the ambitious Commander of the Guards. Sejanus feeds into
Tiberius’ insecurities and convinces him that Germanicus is actually
plotting to take control of the government. When Germanicus
successfully quells the Rhine mutiny, Tiberius becomes even more
convinced that Germanicus is poised to overthrow him. Although
Germanicus is innocent of any treachery, he is unable to convince
Tiberius of his loyalty and is sent to Syria, where he dies under
unusual circumstances. The Roman public is devastated by Germanicus’
death, but Tiberius is simply relieved that the threat posed by
Germanicus’ popularity is gone.
Sejanus continues to promote his own interests after Germanicus’
death, and his ambitions grow to such an extent that he plots to
overthrow Tiberius himself and rule Rome with Livilla at his side.
In order to ensure that he and Livilla can successfully overthrow
Tiberius, Sejanus convinces Tiberius that Germanicus’ widow,
Agrippina, and their eldest sons pose dangerous threats to his
power. This way, Sejanus is assured that Tiberius will remove
Germanicus’ remaining sons as potential heirs to the throne. At
Sejanus’ suggestion, Tiberius promptly kills or imprisons any
friends and supporters of Germanicus’ family and then imprisons Nero
and Drusus, Germanicus’ two oldest sons. Sejanus also plots to gain
a closer connection to the imperial family by arranging for
Claudius’ divorce from Urgulanilla and insisting on his marriage to
Aelia, Sejanus’ adopted sister.
One night, Claudius is surprised to be invited to dinner with Livia
and Caligula, Germanicus’ youngest son. Over the course of the
dinner, Livia reveals a prophecy that outlines Caligula as Tiberius’
successor and Claudius as Caligula’s successor. Livia urges Claudius
to promise to make her a goddess when he becomes emperor, and he
agrees on the condition that she tells him the truth about all of
the murders that she has committed over the course of her life.
In the meantime, Livia has become completely estranged from Tiberius
and has very little power over his decisions. Yet, Tiberius is still
afraid of Livia’s political influence and the damage that she could
do against him. When Livia dies, Tiberius is finally free to make
his own decisions and begins to exhibit all of the personal
depravities that he had hidden in his earlier days as emperor. He
decides to move to Capri and leave Rome in Sejanus’ hands. While
Tiberius is in Capri, Antonia inadvertently discovers Livilla’s
conspiracy with Sejanus and informs Tiberius. Sejanus is brutally
executed, and Antonia, given Tiberius’ permission to arrange for her
daughter’s punishment, locks Livilla in her room and starves her to
Tiberius’ heir then becomes Caligula, who develops into Tiberius’
close confidante and partner in the pursuit of sexual depravities.
When Tiberius falls into a coma, Caligula steals his signet ring and
proclaims himself emperor. After Tiberius gains consciousness a few
minutes later, Caligula orders Macro, Sejanus’ replacement as
Commander of the Guards, to smother Tiberius with a pillow.
The first few months of Caligula’s reign are prosperous: he doubles
the wages of the soldiers, declares a general amnesty, and sends
millions of gold pieces into general circulation. Soon after,
however, Caligula falls ill with a brain fever and becomes convinced
that he has metamorphosed into a god. Completely insane, Caligula
embarks on a murderous terror against his family members, friends,
and the general Roman populace. He commits incest with his three
sisters, marries the wives of other men, opens a brothel in the
palace, executes people for crimes as minor as selling hot water in
the streets, forces Antonia to kill herself, executes his son and
father-in-law, and even deploys the entire Roman military to fight a
war against Neptune, the god of the ocean. Throughout Caligula’s
insanity, Claudius is able to survive by using Pollio’s advice:
accentuating his stammer and constantly playing the fool. Caligula
even appears to be so amused by his stuttering uncle that he gives
him the beautiful Messalina to marry.
On the day of the Palatine festival, Caligula is assassinated by
several of his soldiers. During the chaos that follows, Claudius
attempts to hide but is discovered by a group of guards who proclaim
him to be the new emperor. Although Claudius tells them that he does
not want to be emperor and attempts to escape, he is forced to
accept the position and ultimately fulfill the Sibyl’s prophecy.