Home Up Caligula, Claudius, Nero


Part Three: History of the
Julio-Claudian Emperors

Story written by Rick Archer
November 2009


1 Julius Caesar - The Man Who Ended the Republic

2 Augustus 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.  Endless 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 civilized.

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 four parts.

1- The Roman Republic 2- Julius and Augustus Caesar
3- Tiberius 4- Caligula, Claudius, and Nero

Augustus Caesar, the Greatest of them All


The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

The term 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 Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius Claudius Nero (Tiberius).  The ruling line was founded upon an alliance between these two families.

The 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 guts. 

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" interaction. 

Tiberius was 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 heirs.  

The Early Years of Tiberius

Augustus Caesar was a remarkable politician, but it is widely agreed that he was largely responsible for the most dysfunctional family in Rome as well.

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 Line".

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 Octavian.

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 best friends. 

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.

Marcus Agrippa

Augustus Caesar
, or Octavian as 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 political genius.  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 was to everyone else.

Although 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 Actium 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?

Julia, 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.

Tiberius, 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 Agrippa to 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 to Julia, the union was successful.  They had five children together.  Augustus was thrilled.  Since Augustus 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. 

The Event that Changed Tiberius' Life

Since Augustus 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. 

With Augustus and Agrippa running the state and Drusus and Tiberius patrolling the borders, Rome reached its absolute zenith of power.

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?

Tiberius 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 blood.  

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 had. 

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 repugnant. 

Furthermore, Tiberius disliked Julia.  Besides having the warmest attachment to Vipsania, Tiberius was disgusted with the conduct of Julia, who had made indecent advances to him during the lifetime of her former husband Agrippa.  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 full."

This 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.

Despite 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! 

Tiberius was 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 Agrippina, the woman he dearly loved, and marry Julia, a woman said to be the biggest whore in all of Rome.  

The Doomed Marriage

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 more.

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 barren 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.

Julia's entire 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. 

Ultimately, Augustus had no one to blame but himself for his only daughter's miserable end.  He ruined her life.

Aftermath - Tiberius

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 after another.  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. 

When Tiberius could not bear the pain anymore, the thought crossed his fragile mind that perhaps Vipsania would consider seeing him again. 

As previously mentioned, political marriages were common in Rome among the upper class.  However, these often business-like marriages involved human beings with real feelings, not robots.  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 modern society. 

When his 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 shared. 

Vipsania was 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.

Vipsania quietly 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 woman who 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 Rhodes

Once the loveless marriage collapsed, Tiberius' life was never the same. 

Tiberius was 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 come back. 

Tiberius' decision 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, Tiberius set sail straightway for Rhodes. 

Tiberius's 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.

Augustus was 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.

Once Tiberius 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 Tiberius

Now that the last three direct heirs with "Julian blood" in them had been eliminated, that 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 Wars! 

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. 

Such irony.

Tiberius Takes Over

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 participation.

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 relationships.

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' nephew Germanicus 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.

Germanicus was 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.

All eyes in Rome turned towards Tiberius in suspicion because the suspected assassin was a well-known friend of Tiberius.  Piso, 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 Rome. 

Unfortunately, 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!"

Maybe the 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 Castor.  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.

It probably 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 that close!  

The sordid tale of Lucius Aelius Sejanus is likely to be one of the best stories you have never heard before.

Sejanus was 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 of Augustus. 

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 bounds.

Sejanus 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, Castor, 29.  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.

As well 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 from 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. 

The tragic 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.

The Seduction of Livilla

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 - Castor's wife!

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!

Like his 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. 

Furthermore, 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 affair.   

Their affair 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. 

People had already noticed 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 cuckolded!

It was 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. 

Using slow 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 climbing faster.

Whispers in the Dark

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. 

Sejanus 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.

After his request to marry Livilla was shot down, Sejanus stepped up his whispering campaign about all the treacherous plots against Tiberius.  Thanks to Sejanus' tales, Tiberius saw an assassin in every corner and every shadow.

As head 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 trusted advisor.

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.

Sejanus suggested Tiberius begin to think about leaving Rome for Capri for his own safety.  

High 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.

This 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 Empire.

In 26 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.

Sejanus and his Mafia, The Praetorian Guard

The 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. 

Under 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 action. 

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. 

Before Sejanus 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. 

The Shakedown Racket

After 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 treason. 

Sejanus' Reign of Terror began in 26 AD.  However, thanks to Tiberius, the climate of fear in Rome had begun long before that. 

When he 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 day. 

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.

Over the 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.

Tiberius' mean 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.

Not surprisingly, 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! 

The 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.

The Law 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 Rome. 

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.

"It was 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 Richard Bauman

Does Tiberius Know About This?

Naturally you 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 mission.

Sejanus made sure that all mail sent to Tiberius was read ahead of time.  This wouldn't work.

Tiberius was 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 see?   No.

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.  Very risky.

The Imperial 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 Tiberius. 

Besides, there is a strong and very scary chance that Tiberius knew what was going on and approved of it.  Or would he even care? 

Thus, by controlling access to Tiberius, Sejanus guaranteed his total control of Rome. 

Clearing the Path to the Throne

Enjoying unlimited power in Rome, Sejanus was free to act. 

Sejanus' next step was to remove the two immediate heirs to the throne, Nero 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. 

It might 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 line!

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. 

Sejanus wasn't 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. 

Emboldened by 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

Sejanus smiled 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 old beauty. 

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. 

Unfortunately, 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. 

Sejanus knew 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 cross Sejanus. 

Sejanus was certain the die was cast in his favor.  He was wrong.  The Fates had a nasty surprise for Sejanus. 

Beware the 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. 

Sejanus 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. 

Sejanus' second 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 himself!

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 idea.  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?

"Cooperate?  Are you out of your mind?  You will marry that girl over my dead body!!"   No truer words were ever spoken. 

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

A mother 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.

Antonia was 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 place?

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. 

However, in the quiet of her bedroom, Antonia despaired.  A powerful seed of doubt had been planted in her mind. 

Furthermore, 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 past week!

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 Strikes Back

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.

For god 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 father?    

Livilla was now 44, but she was 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! 

Livilla was 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.

If Sejanus 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 this letter.

Antonia Finds Out

Antonia was 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.  But how?

Antonia returned to her chambers armed with Livilla's discarded, wadded up 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'. 

Antonia was 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.  Not Antonia.

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 uncle.

Antonia had 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. 

Claudius had 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, Antonia 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 Claudius!"  

For that 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 clodhopper.

Thanks in 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 left. 

Throughout 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 military campaign 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. 

Nine male 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 Claudius? 

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 Livilla's treacherous letter to Tiberius?   Everyone knew Claudius was too stupid to bother searching.  No one would ever suspect a moron like Claudius of anything devious.

Tiberius Finds Out 

As Antonia 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 written personally. 

Once Claudius was alone with Tiberius, he presented Livilla's letter to his uncle Tiberius along with an explanatory letter from Antonia, Tiberius' 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.

Tiberius asked 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."

Caligula was right.  Macro was very interested.


The Fall of Sejanus

Unfortunately, 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.

Now 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.

Livilla's 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 her."

Soon after Livilla starved her to death, Antonia took her own life.




Sejanus 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 potential rivals.



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

Tiberius 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 her husband.

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.

At the 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 inclinations.



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 history:

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.[3]

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 Augustus.

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, Caesar's sister.

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.

[edit] Claudius
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 widely.

[edit] Nero
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 praetorian guard.

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 himself.

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 Emperors.

[edit] Great-nephews
It is interesting how commonly the blood relationship of great-uncle /great-nephew is found between the rulers of Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Augustus was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar (and his adopted son).
Caligula was the great-nephew of Tiberius (and his adopted son).
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 story.

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.

; seventeen 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. livia

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.





 The conflict 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 prestige.

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 assassination.

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 1935.

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 Graves’s novel.







Plot Summary

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 and dies.

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 Claudius.

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 to recount.

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 Edition (Blu-ray)
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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 ignored history.
"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 sex scenes).

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 it.

But of course, I know that that's not what most people will watch it for. So perhaps Guccione was right.




Short Summary
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 confidante, Urgulania.

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 death.

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.




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