The Roman Game
Written by Rick Archer
Rick Archer's Note:
The inspiration for this story
came from the well-regarded British miniseries known
as I, Claudius. The miniseries
was based on a book of the same name written by
Roman history, with its
conquests, technical advancements, and impact on our
modern world can be one of the most fascinating
subjects known to man. Roman politics, however, is
very difficult to understand.
What Robert Graves did with
I, Claudius is present all the complex
political intrigues of the early empire and make
them both comprehensible and fascinating at the same
time. Robert Graves told his story from the
perspective of Claudius, the fourth Emperor of Rome.
Claudius was intellectually
gifted but physically deformed. His family had
no idea the boy was actually smart. They took
one look at his deformities and concluded he was
mentally deficient. Ashamed of his stammering,
limp and nervous tics, they kept him out of public
life. In addition, they all concluded that
Claudius was no threat to his ambitious relatives.
Due to extensive inbreeding
within the family, one has to wonder if Claudius was
one of the victims. Even as his symptoms begin
to wane in his teenage years, people had trouble
taking him seriously. Only a couple people
were on to him. As a teenager, Claudius wrote
a history of the civil wars. Unfortunately, it
was far too truthful and critical of the emperor
Augustus. His mother and grandmother quickly put a
stop to it. They told him to keep his thoughts
to himself for his own good.
This was a lucky break for
Claudius. Claudius caught on that his very
survival in this murderous dynasty depended upon
maintaining his family's incorrect assumption that
he was a harmless idiot.
Claudius concluded that his
best chance to survive the Curse of the Imperial
Palace was to convince everyone that he was a total
While everyone around him
either died young, was exiled or went insane,
Claudius somehow managed to hide in plain sight from
the danger. He would live to become an
ROMAN GAME OF THRONES
the Seven Caesars!
1 Julius Caesar -
2 Augustus -
3 Tiberius -
4 Sejanus -
5 Caligula -
6 Claudius -
7 Nero -
Man Who Ended the Roman Republic
The Man Who Was
The Man Who Did
Not Want to be King
The Man Who
Would Be King
The Man Who Should not Have
The Man Too Stupid to be King
The Monster Who Ended the Julio-Claudian Line
This story is dedicated to the Seven Caesars and to the women who
manipulated them at every turn. We have all heard of ambition gone
wild, corruption, and dirty
politics. We have heard of sexual perversion, cruelty,
and debauchery. Now add political assassination, poison and
complete madness to the mix.
There is no way to
explain how stunning some of these stories are. They must be
read to be believed. 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. Too much
And too much cruelty.
Look no further than
the savage blood sport recreation known as the Games. Here we
have Romans watching slaves
bash their comrade's brains during gladiatorial contests,
cheering as defenseless Christians are slaughtered by fierce animals,
enjoying criminals tortured in public for amusement, seeing helpless
animals abused in hideous ways, all the while 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
Chapter One: Julius Caesar
Our story begins with Julius Caesar.
To understand Roman politics, one must take into account the
fervor Roman citizens clung to their freedom. Rome had
once been a monarchy. Sick of tyrannical rule, in 509
BC the Romans overthrew their king. The increasing
power of Julius Caesar was deemed the greatest threat ever
to this cherished tradition.
At the time when Caesar arrived on the
scene, the Republic was in dire straits. Roman political
order was in chaos. There was street violence and rioting.
To some the Roman citizenry was falling victim to moral
decay. Many believed that it was only a matter of time
before the Republic would fall. Currently the Senate
was the seat of all power, but the Senate was broken into so
many warring factions that nothing could get done.
Does this sound familiar?
Julius Caesar's early career involved
his rise to power by
means of the First Triumvirate. In 60 BC Caesar made
friends with two men. One was Crassus, the richest man in Rome.
large loans would finance Caesar's burgeoning political career.
The other was
Pompey, a political leader of the Roman Republic who came
from a wealthy Italian provincial background. Pompey was a
terrific general who advanced his career by successful
leadership in several campaigns.
At the time when Caesar was no better than a mere governor,
Pompey and Crassus were bitter rivals. Crassus and Pompey were far more powerful than Caesar.
Caesar decided that to curry favor with one man meant making an enemy
of the other. Although Caesar
had the least power of the three, he managed to talk the two
opponents into meeting with him. Caesar suggested they form a
Triumvirate. Their triangle became known as 'the three-headed monster' by
enemies. It was an apt description.
Into this vacuum came the The
Three-Headed Monster. The three men seized the
opportunity for personal gain. Despite their
individual differences and pure animosity, the three men
would remain in control through bribes and threats to
dominate both the consulship and military commands. In
particular, Caesar gained the most. Not only did he
obtain a consulship, he gained the most coveted military
assignment of all: Conquest of Gaul (France).
It was in Gaul where Caesar achieved
his fame. Caesar's victories in the Gallic Wars
extended Rome's territory to the English Channel and the
Rhine. Caesar became the first Roman general to cross
both when he built a bridge across the Rhine and conducted
the first invasion of Britain. Caesar was not only a
great military commander, he had keen political instincts.
He wrote vivid stories of each conquest and sent these
reports back to Rome. Caesar's Gallia became a
must-read for every citizen of Rome. His fame grew
The First Triumvirate ended in 53
BC. It had been an unstable political alliance from the
start. It only lasted for seven years. None of three men
ever trusted each other.
First came the news that Crassus was dead. Crassus had died
fighting the Parthians in ancient Iran at the Battle
of Carrhae, 53 BC. That left Caesar and Pompey as the
two undisputed powers of Rome. Neither man was interested in
sharing power. However, at the moment, Pompey held the upper
hand since he was based in Rome and Caesar was still in Gaul. Caesar knew his likely rival had the inside
track to gain political prominence. It was obvious that
Caesar and Pompey would have to fight it out for the control
Caesar completed the Gallic Wars in 51
BC. In 50 BC, the Roman Senate, led by
Pompey, ordered Caesar to return to Rome. Caesar was
well aware that Pompey had allied himself with many enemies in Rome
prepared to take him down. Considering Caesar had no political rank
in Rome, at the least he expected to be politically marginalized if
he entered Rome... or perhaps they would just murder him.
Caesar had two
powerful assets: his fame and his army. He knew the people
of Rome would welcome him. But he had no guarantee for his
safety since Pompey had ordered Caesar to disband his army.
Caesar had no intention of walking into the obvious trap
unprotected. Therefore Caesar refused to relinquish his
army. Frustrated at Caesar's defiance, Pompey accused
Caesar of insubordination and treason. If Caesar were to
enter Rome with his army, Pompey said it would be an act of
war. That threat did not stop Caesar.
On 10 January 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, an
event known as 'Crossing the Rubicon'. With him was a
single legion. The Rubicon was the northern frontier boundary of
Italy. No army was allowed inside this protective
barrier. Thus Caesar knew full well his bold action would
ignite civil war. Aware of the danger ahead, Caesar uttered
his immortal words "The die is cast."
Thanks to his success in Gaul, Caesar returned home with an
intimidating military reputation. Despite greatly
outnumbering Caesar and his single legion,
Pompey was terrified of Rome's greatest general. Pompey
turned heel and ran.
Leaving his top general Mark Antony
watch Rome for him, Caesar chased Pompey to the southern tip
of Italy. Then he chased Pompey to Greece where he
finally caught up to him. Caesar
soundly vanquished Pompey's army on the fields of Pharsalus
in an extremely short battle. Afterwards Caesar was disgusted to find
Pompey had again fled the scene. Pompey escaped to
Egypt and sought refuge in the court of Ptolemy. Bad move.
Before Caesar could reach Egypt, Pompey was behead by a Roman loyal to Caesar
who was stationed there.
Caesar's trip to Alexandria
was not a total waste. He found great pleasure in the
arms of the Egyptian temptress Cleopatra.
his Egyptian dalliance with Cleopatra, in
47 BC Julius Caesar returned to Rome and
began to dominate the political
landscape. In 44 BC he was given the powers of
Dictator. Now it was only a matter of
time till he made himself Emperor. Seeing the last
chance of to save the democratic Republic from slipping
away, Julius Caesar was murdered
on the steps of the Senate
in March, 44 BC.
60 men participated in the execution.
the Ides of March.
Chapter Two: Octavian and Mark Antony
the assassination of Julius Caesar,
there was an
enormous political vacuum. The conspirators apparently had no
long-range plan. So, in a major blunder, they did not
immediately kill Mark Antony when surprise was still in their favor.
Antony wasn't stupid. He correctly anticipated that the dictator's assassination would be the start of a
bloodbath between Caesar's supporters and enemies.
In the turmoil surrounding
the event, Mark Antony escaped Rome dressed as a slave.
Now that Mark Antony had survived the coup, he was in the perfect position to inherit Caesar's power. The
conspirators had only a band of gladiators to back them up.
Antony had a legion, the keys to Caesar's money boxes, and
access to Caesar's will. Furthermore, as Caesar's right hand man, Antony was already a recognized
and respected leader
of Rome. Mark Antony clearly had the inside track to the throne.
Mark Antony had gotten his start as a military leader under Caesar
during the conquest of Gaul. When Caesar decided to patrol the
Mediterranean in chase of Pompey, he put Mark Antony in charge of
running the affairs of Rome. Mark Antony was a formidable man
in his own right. Although Caesar and Antony had
their differences, Caesar knew he could trust Antony.
Unfortunately, on the day of the murder, the conspirators had the
sense to delay
Antony elsewhere in the Roman Forum. Antony learned of the murder plot just moments before it took place.
He rushed to warn Caesar, but, alas, Antony was
Afterwards, it was Mark Antony who decided to punish Caesar's
assassins. First he negotiated a truce with the assassins by
promising them amnesty. But
then he turned the tables on them by publicly exposing their role in Caesar's
death in a marvelous speech at the funeral.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury
Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after
them, the good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. -- William Shakespeare
The citizens of
Rome were outraged to learn the truth. Their misdeeds brought
to light at the funeral, the assassins ran
for their lives.
When it was time to read Caesar's secret will,
Mark Antony received a nasty shock. Caesar's will named an
unknown boy by the name of Octavian as his heir. In addition, Caesar's will
posthumously adopted this same Octavian
as his son. Caesar's name and considerable estate would go to
Octavian? Who was Octavian? Scarcely anyone in Rome had
ever heard of him. Antony barely even knew who Octavian
This moment marked the start of 17 year journey for Octavian
on his way to become the supreme leader of Rome.
was a long shot at best,
this was the start of a very remarkable story.
was the son of Atia. Atia was the
daughter of Julius Caesar's only sister Julia.
Julius Caesar was so clever that he had kept Octavian in
hiding for years without explaining to anyone what he was up
to, not even to Atia, the boy's mother.
to shield the lad from assassins.
To further ensure
the boy's safety, Caesar had deliberately hidden his
great-nephew from the world by sending him to Greece to
continue his education.
Now Octavian was in for the shock of a
Gaius Octavian was a
short, thin, sickly 19-year-old schoolboy
living in Greece when he learned the
news. After hearing that his
great-uncle had been tragically
murdered, he was stunned to learn
that Caesar had named him as his
heir. Octavian barely knew the man.
Caesar was always somewhere - Gaul, Greece, Egypt, Hispania,
Asia Minor - fighting some battle. With the weight of
an Empire dropped upon him, imagine how
overwhelmed Octavian must have felt.
Octavian knew that his uncle had
always taken an interest in him.
knew he had impressed Caesar on several occasions,
but his illustrious uncle had never revealed his true
thoughts. Now he trembled. He was a mere schoolboy with no
political experience, no army, no money, and no military training.
Although he had just been
named the successor of the greatest
politician in Roman history, there
was no guarantee that the rule of law would be followed.
Rome was like the Wild Wild West... any gunslinger could
take him down.
Octavian had one asset... he was very smart.
Octavian suddenly grasped why his uncle seemed to go out of
his way to avoid him. Octavian guessed that
Caesar had expected to groom the boy into this role in due
since Caesar was unaware of his impending doom,
he had been cut down shortly
before the boy's initiation was about to begin.
marked a dangerous time for this young man.
How dare he try to step into the famous dictator's shoes!
Octavian had no army.
He had no security guard.
He had no allies or patrons.
He had no reputation.
no money. Furthermore, Mark Antony was
sure to object. How would Octavian ever claim the prize?
only one thing
going for him -
Caesar had named him the successor. Octavian
knew he would be a marked man,
but surely the name of Caesar
meant something. Octavian was game
to try. Against the worried advice of his family,
Octavian boldly set off for Italy
to claim his inheritance.
Octavian had a plan. He knew
a direct trip to Rome would be too dangerous.
Mark Antony would likely
have him murdered on the spot. So what if Caesar's will had
named young Octavian the legal heir? What meaning would the
document hold if Octavian was dead? Then Antony would have
no one to stand in his way from assuming
Octavian knew time was of the essence.
In April, just one month after Caesar's death, Octavian took a detour to Brundisium at the southern tip
of Italy. Octavian knew a sizable army of
soldiers loyal to Caesar was stationed
there. Octavian introduced himself to
the commander of Caesar's legions. He showed the
man the documents naming
him Caesar's heir. Caesar had always been good to his armies.
Octavian was gratified to discover there was
still great loyalty to
his uncle's name.
commander was impressed by
precocious boy's confidence and courage at such a
young age. Maybe
Caesar knew what he was doing when
he picked young Octavian to take his place.
Why not give the kid a
After the warm welcome by Caesar's soldiers at Brundisium,
Octavian demanded (and received) a portion of the funds that
were allotted by Caesar for the intended war against Parthia
in the Middle East. This amounted to 700 million sesterces.
Since that money was
public funds, this must have taken
some smooth-talking. Octavian
made another bold move. Acting
without permission, Octavian appropriated the annual
tribute that had been sent from Rome's Near Eastern provinces
to Italy. Mind you, this was a 19
year old boy making these
moves. Octavian may have
been new at this, but he obviously had
his uncle's genes going for him.
After his initial
visit to Brundisium, Octavian began to visit other pockets
of soldiers as well. Throughout
April, Octavian continued gathering support. By
emphasizing his status as heir to Caesar,
Octavian bolstered his personal
recognition with veteran legionaries and with troops
designated for the Parthian war.
Next Octavian won over Caesar's former veterans
stationed in Campania.
In just one month, Octavian had gathered an army of 3,000 loyal veterans.
Now that he had an army
behind him, it was time to head to Rome. Arriving in Rome on
6 May 44 BC, Octavian found the consul Mark Antony, Caesar's
former colleague, locked in an uneasy truce with the
One can imagine this was a very
Octavian, 19, was not all imposing.
He was a thin,
weakling kid who looked more like a nerd than a leader.
Across the table was Mark Antony, 44, a brute of a
man. Antony was a war hero who knew how to
wield a sword, command armies, and fend off political enemies
with apparent ease. Nevertheless,
the kid was unfazed by Antony's reputation. Octavian demanded his money
from Caesar's estate and asked what Antony had done to chase
down Caesar's assassins.
One can only
to have seen the look on
bitter Antony's face.
From his grave, Caesar surely
smiled at Antony's discomfort. Previously Antony
had thought Caesar was a fool for
picking this sickly kid. Now
Antony formed a new impression.
Antony knew Caesar had spent his whole life evaluating
talent. Antony was forced to admit
that there was a quality in the lad
that hinted at greatness.
No doubt Antony wanted to simply
strike the lad down and be done with him, but there was the
small problem of that army loyal to the kid
sitting outside his door.
So the boy was not harmed.
Nevertheless, Antony took a harsh attitude towards
Octavian due to his age.
Why not try to intimidate the boy? Antony
refused to unblock
the boy's inheritance from Caesar.
Indeed, Octavian failed to
wrest any money from Antony that day, but
he was encouraged nevertheless. At
least Octavian got the man to accept his political
There was a new kid in town.
Over the next
few months, more veterans of Caesar's legions
lined up behind their dead leader's chosen heir.
The kid had charisma. Armed
with Antony's acceptance and this
increased military backing, Octavian had
established a foothold in Rome. It
was time for the the next step. Noting
that his uncle had named Octavian his son and rightful heir,
the young man renamed himself 'Gaius
Using his impressive new name to full advantage,
he quickly won the allegiance of
his great-uncle's political supporters
and assumed a role in government.
Now Octavian took a page out of Caesar's playbook. If you
can't beat them, join them. Rather than oppose Antony, he
persuaded his greatest rival, a man twice
his age, to join a Second Triumvirate with Lepidus as
the third man. They joined
forces to avenge the death of their mutual benefactor.
Together, the three of them would chase down the assassins
and any troops loyal to them.
Octavian worked with Mark Antony and Lepidus to
track down all of Caesar's murderers. They defeated Cassius
and Brutus in the Battle of Philippi over in Greece in 42
BC. It had taken two years, but the
death of Julius Caesar was avenged.
Now the three men
turned their wary eyes on each other. They carved up
the Roman territories. Lepidus got Africa, Octavian
got Italy and the west, while
Antony took the east. There
was no further bloodshed for a while, but
Octavian was certain Antony
was up to no good.
To be sure, Antony was indeed
up to no good, but it had nothing to do with plots
or more fighting. It was time to make love, not war.
Cleopatra had been in Rome with Julius Caesar at the
time of his death. During this time, Mark
Antony had developed a serious crush on the woman
and Cleopatra knew it.
elimination of the Caesar's assassins, Antony received an
invitation to visit Cleopatra. So he took a
trip down to Egypt. The twosome began a passionate
affair in 41 BC.
Only one problem... Antony was
still married to Fulvia, the most powerful woman in
Rome. Supremely jealous and quite irritated at
her straying husband, Fulvia
fomented a war with Octavian in Italy as a way to
draw her husband home.
This led to a
remarkable stand-off. On the eve of battle,
the generals of Octavian and the generals of Antony
refused to fight each other because they had all
once served together under Julius Caesar. This
forced the astonished Antony and Octavian to patch up their
About this time, Fulvia conveniently
died, more than likely from a timely dose of poison.
their tenuous relationship, in 40
BC Octavian demanded Antony
marry Octavia, Octavian's sister,
as a show of allegiance.
With a heavy heart, Antony gave in.
Take one guess what Cleopatra's
Two years passed. Antony
could not get Cleopatra out of his mind. He
left Octavia and went crawling back to Cleopatra.
Cleopatra was the scorned
woman. In return for her forgiveness,
Cleopatra demanded a show of loyalty.
Antony asked what she had in
Cleopatra demanded Antony cede
control of a dozen Roman territories in the East to
her and marry her.
Antony accepted her
demands. He divorced Octavia, sister of
Octavian, so he could marry
Cleopatra. Then he
secretly ceded several Roman territories under his control to
had made his move.
He was preparing to
dominate the Roman Empire from the East.
With the combined
armies of Antony and Cleopatra, he had the military
might to do so.
Octavian was well
aware of the growing threat posed by the power duo.
Unfortunately for Octavian, the people of Rome were tired of
fighting this Civil War.
So an uneasy truce developed. For
the next ten years, Octavian could do
nothing more than wage a public
relations battle. He made
sure that Antony's flirtations with the foreign queen did
not sit very well in Rome.
time, the Roman people began to distrust Antony.
The final straw
came when someone tipped off Octavian
that Antony had betrayed Rome. Octavian
stormed the sanctuary of the Vestal Virgins and forced their
chief priestess to hand over Antony's secret will.
To Octavian's delight, the will
that Antony intended to give away Roman-conquered
territories as kingdoms for his sons by
Cleopatra to rule. In addition
Antony had plans to build a tomb in Alexandria
for him and his queen to reside upon their deaths.
Octavian smiled. If Antony and Cleopatra were lucky,
those tombs would be ready just in time.
Seeing his chance
to get rid of his rival, Octavian declared Antony a traitor.
Learning of Antony's treachery, now
the Roman people were mad enough to
help Octavian wage war on Antony and Cleopatra
and regain control of Rome's eastern territories.
In 31 BC, 13 years after the
death of Caesar, Octavian trapped Antony and
Cleopatra's forces on the Actium promontory in western
Forming a blockade, Octavian forced a sea fight
in the waters on the western shore of
turned to his best friend Marcus
Agrippa. Realizing Agrippa
was the better military leader, Octavian
let him assume control of the Roman
fleet. This led to the Battle of Actium, one of
the most famous sea battles in history. After
Antony was routed, he and
Cleopatra fled back to Egypt with Octavian on their heels.
Octavian and Agrippa
went on to conquer Egypt.
Pinned against the wall with no refuge to escape to, Antony committed suicide.
himself with his sword in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra
had already done so. When he found out that Cleopatra was
still alive, his friends brought Antony to Cleopatra
and he died in her arms.
Cleopatra knew full well that if she was caught, Octavian
would parade her through the streets of Rome.
Cleopatra would rather die than suffer this humiliation. Cleopatra took her own life with the bite
of an asp.
Upon the demise of Antony,
Octavian had emerged as the sole master of the Roman
world. Now that the Senate was no
longer the main seat of Roman power, the Republic was finally ready to succumb to
Octavian's imperial authority.
Julio-Claudian Dynasty refers to the series of
the first five Roman Emperors. These men ruled the Roman
Empire from 27 BC to AD 68, when the last of the line, Nero,
committed suicide. The dynasty is so named from the
family names of its first two emperors: Gaius
Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius
Nero (Tiberius). The ruling line was founded upon an
alliance between these two families.
5 Emperors of the Dynasty:
1. Augustus ( 27 BC– AD 14)
2. Tiberius (14– 37)
3. Caligula (37– 41)
4. Claudius (41– 54)
5. Nero (54– 68)
Chapter Three: Augustus Caesar
The Roman Civil Wars had
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon
in 49 BC.
Now the wars were over. The death of Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BC
had brought twenty years of Roman Civil War to a dramatic
In all, Octavian
had to eliminate over a dozen contenders to lay
undisputed claim the throne of Rome. This was quite an
The time had come to crown Rome's
In 27 BC the Senate bestowed upon
Octavian the title 'Augustus',
meaning "revered". Augustus
would rule the Roman Empire for 45 years until his
death in 14 AD. During this
Caesar would become Rome's greatest leader.
Under Augustus, Rome
would reach the
very zenith of power. Thanks first to the
groundwork of Julius Caesar and then to political
prowess of his talented nephew, the
Age of Augustus
became a time of lasting prosperity throughout the
surpass his gifted predecessor Julius Caesar in
many ways. Although
Augustus had nowhere near the military ability of
his uncle, he was every bit the equal of Julius
in the area of politics. During his reign, Augustus
Caesar would bring social
stability to a region once plagued by constant
One of the new emperor's main principles
was to persuade each defeated
territory to ally with Rome. Why not fight 'for
Rome' rather than against it? Talking
bitter enemies into becoming allies was never easy, but Augustus was good
at it. With German barbarians and Asiatic
hordes streaming into Europe, his promise of mutual
defense was a persuasive argument.
Although Roman leaders were
forced to extinguish occasional rebellions
such as the Great Jewish Revolt of 68 AD, the
interior of the Empire was left completely untouched
by civil war or attack by invaders from the
perimeter for 200 years.
his largely benevolent rule, Augustus established a
period of peace known as 'Pax
Romana' (Roman Peace)
that would last
BC till 180 AD.
There is little question that
Augustus made his uncle Julius proud. Augustus
built on what Julius started to create the greatest
Empire in ancient history.
In a lifetime spanning 77
one would think Augustus died a happy man, but such
was not the case.
Although Augustus Caesar
Augustus would go down as Rome's
finest Emperor, he would
suffer a very strange Destiny.
Indeed, over time the
most powerful man in the world would discover he was
virtually powerless within his own home.
The fate of Augustus was
highly ironic. Augustus
doomed to preside
over the most dysfunctional royal family of all time.
This awareness had to be
deeply painful for him.
In an age
when Roman debauchery made our own Swinging Seventies seem
tame, Augustus was determined to set a
good example as a moral leader. Augustus
strongly believed in 'Family'
as the bedrock of Roman society. He championed
virtue, marital faithfulness and the importance of
However, Augustus made one
very serious mistake.
Turning a blind eye to his
values, Augustus stole another
man's wife. Little did he know his punishment would be a lifetime of neverending
Unlike Julius Caesar who had
picked a talented heir, Augustus would agonize over
his inability to
do the same. Despite his
best efforts, Augustus was unable to leave a competent heir to continue his
considerable legacy. It
must have driven him crazy.
'I Claudius', it turns out there may have been a good
reason why Augustus Caesar did not leave a decent heir.
Her name was Livia.
By marrying Augustus during his rise to power, Livia would
go on to become the first Empress of Rome.
Whereas Julius and Augustus Caesar
represented the 'Julian' side,
Livia provided the first 'Claudian' blood of the
Julio-Claudian family tree. Livia's father was a
member of the Claudian family and so was her first husband
prior to Augustus.
the Claudian family in 58 BC,
first marriage at the age of 15 produced two sons, Tiberius
and Drusus. Tiberius, the future
emperor, was born in 42 BC, two years after the
assassination of Julius Caesar.
born in 38 BC.
six months pregnant with Drusus when Augustus Caesar seized
her from her first husband and took her for his own wife.
Oddly enough, their marriage would be childless.
Their lack of children would have
grave consequences in every sense of the term. When it
came to blood, no one took it more seriously than Livia.
career as Empress of Rome, she
elevate political assassination to an art form.
would live to the ripe of old age of 89,
a remarkable feat in an era when most people were lucky to
make it to 40.
Disease was a huge problem in Rome. Built on top of a
swamp encompassed by seven surrounding hills, water did not
drain well. Malaria was a constant problem until
someone had the bright idea to build the Roman Forum over
Unfortunately, that did not stop the
disease. The early Romans had a bad habit of sending
human waste, garbage, and their corpses in the Tiber River.
Forced to drink badly-polluted water, the life span of the
average Roman was short indeed.
Livia was an extremely ambitious woman who likely
influenced the course of Roman history far more than most
people realize. Livia was the original power behind the
throne. At all times, Livia's opinions carried tremendous
sway over her husband's decisions.
It is said that Octavian fell in love
with Livia at first sight. This was an interesting
observation considered Livia was six months pregnant with
Drusus at the time. That didn't stop Octavian.
He waited all of three months until
Livia's second son Drusus was born
on January 14, 38 BC. Then
days later, Octavian married Livia. Livia was 20 at the time.
Married for 52 years, one has to
wonder if Octavian ever regretted his hasty decision.
Considering the damage and scandal Livia brought to his
family, one would assume so except for one thing... Livia
was the master of deceit.
For the rest of his life, Octavian had
no idea that his wife was the reason his heirs kept dying.
marriage to Augustus lasted until the day came when Livia
decided it was time to poison him as well.
At the root of the problem was their
Since Livia and
Augustus had no children together, there was no consensus
heir. Augustus would have to appoint someone. Who would
ultimate heir to the throne?
of Rome, Livia decided she had every right to make her own
son Tiberius the next Emperor. It
was her decision to eliminate every possible rival to pave
the way for Tiberius that created 'The Roman Game of
mini-series 'I Claudius' offered compelling
circumstantial evidence that Livia was a serial killer
within the noble family. Robert Graves,
the writer, didn't just make his story up. Graves
his story on innuendo passed down by the Roman historian
Tacitus. Tacitus had portrayed Livia as a ruthless, scheming,
thoroughly Machiavellian political mastermind.
Claudius' revealed that several untimely deaths and
plots were all the machinations of Augustus' cold wife
Livia. And you thought Queen Cerce in
HBO's 'Game of Thrones'
was the most evil woman of all? Guess again.
studying Livia's story from every angle possible, Graves
concluded Tacitus was not exaggerating. The Livia of
Claudius' came across
as perhaps the most evil woman in history.
systematic murder and scheming would
eventually eliminate every
talented man in the Julio-Claudian family tree.
actions, Livia personally doomed Rome to endure
worst Emperors in Roman History - Tiberius, Caligula,
Chapter Five: Julia and Marcellus
A young man named Marcellus was
Livia's first victim.
one child of his own.
Her name was Julia.
She was the daughter of Scribonia, Octavian's wife previous
frequently used marriages for political reasons, loveless
marriages were common. The story of
Scribonia was a perfect example.
Their marriage had not been a happy one.
Forced to marry Scribonia, a woman
15 years older than he,
Octavian felt she nagged him too much. Showing a
disconcerting lack of regard for the woman, Octavian
divorced Scribonia on the very same day she gave birth to
Julia the Elder.
So why was Octavian's daughter called
'Julia the Elder'?
history can be very confusing because there are so many
identical names. The Romans used 'Elder'
and 'Younger' the same way we use 'Senior' and
'Junior'. Another trick was to call someone's
mother 'Major' and the woman's daughter 'Minor'.
was inconveniently born a girl, by
Roman law she could not rule. This
irritated Augustus no end because he desperately needed a
male heir. Who would succeed him if he died young? Who
would succeed him if he died old?
One reason Caesar had
divorced Scribonia was in the
hopes that he and Livia would have children,
but that did not happen.
Fortunately Augustus was savvy enough
to create other options as well.
Roman law said that a male child had to be 14 in order to be
named emperor. Therefore Augustus needed
two heirs... a male heir
to rule until his male heir turned 14.
always a possibility for the caretaker role.
However, Augustus did not care for the
boy. Tiberius was a very glum, moody kid. In
addition, Tiberius shared no blood with the illustrious emperor.
Augustus Caesar had this thing about bloodlines. It was his
preference to find someone who carried 'Julian' blood
for the caretaker role.
Tiberius was a 'Claudian'.
Fortunately Caesar knew
just where to look... his sister Octavia
(#10) had a strapping son
(#9). Unlike Tiberius
who was totally Claudian,
Marcellus was half Julian and half Claudian.
Marcellus could become the caretaker in case
died young. Furthermore, by marrying his daughter Julia
his nephew Marcellus, they could provide the male heir in
case he and Livia did not have a male child of their own.
This was the perfect solution. This
marriage would surely ensure his bloodline would
did not mind marrying her cousin.
As the daughter of the emperor, she knew how the game was played. Roman
Marriages served two purposes... to solidify alliances and
to provide heirs. As it turned out, Julia actually
liked her husband. And why not? Marcellus was
smart and ambitious. Julia expected her husband would
one day be the next Emperor and their first son would be the
Emperor after that.
after his marriage to Julia in 25 BC, Marcellus was chosen
by Augustus to serve with him in Hispania alongside cousin
Tiberius. During this campaign Marcellus excelled.
Augustus was thrilled to see what a wise choice he had
made to marry his daughter.
As for the caretaker role, Augustus developed a clear
preference for Marcellus, his nephew, over his gloomy
found his man. Augustus named
Marcellus his immediate successor. Marcellus was now in direct line for the
throne and so would be his children.
Unfortunately, there would be no children. Once Livia
realized her son Tiberius was frozen out of the succession process,
she refused to sit idly by. Livia took matters into her own
hands. She poisoned Marcellus two years into the marriage.
Taking her time, Livia did it so
skillfully that only a few eyebrows were raised. It is
important to keep in mind that people died all the time in
ancient Rome and no one was ever quite sure what the cause
was. Between the malaria and the tainted water,
disease was so common that only the most incompetent
poisoners risked getting caught.
Now Julia was a widow. And childless...
Augustus was forced to start looking for
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a hero of Rome. Agrippa was
responsible for many important military victories, most
notably at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC against the forces
of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The
direct result of these victories
to become the first Roman Emperor, adopting the name
(#7) was born in 64 BC.
His family had not
been prominent in Roman public life, so
Agrippa chose the military over a political career.
Agrippa was about the same age as Octavian,
so the two were educated together.
They became close friends.
Agrippa had great respect for one another. Augustus trusted
After the war, Augustus gave his friend Agrippa many duties
running the government. Indeed, Agrippa oversaw the
construction of some of the most notable buildings in the
history of Rome.
in 25 BC, Agrippa
got his nose bent out of shape. He
was miffed that Augustus had chosen Marcellus, a mere pup,
over him for the 'Caretaker' role. Agrippa was by
far the better choice to run the government in case Augustus
friendship with Augustus seems to have been clouded by his
jealousy toward Marcellus. This rift was instigated by the
intrigues of Livia who feared Agrippa's
considerable influence over her
husband. She whispered that Marcellus had the right blood
and Agrippa didn't. This was an odd
thing to say since she later poisoned the lad.
unable to find a delicate way to explain the 'blood' thing to Agrippa.
Things became awkward, so Agrippa chose to head over to Asia
Minor for a while and nurse his hurt feelings.
Marcellus turned up dead at age 19, Augustus
interpreted this as a sign from the Gods that
he had made the wrong choice to begin with. He should
never have overlooked Agrippa in the first place.
Augustus decided it
was time to hand the Caretaker role to his best friend. So
Agrippa got a phone call... "Get your ass back to Rome!"
waiting for Agrippa's return, Augustus had a great idea.
Why not marry Julia to Agrippa? So what if the man was old
enough to be her father? Yes, indeed, despite the 25 year
age difference, Julia was told wed to her father's loyal friend.
Augustus gave his daughter one word of advice... "Reproduce!"
her duty seriously. Agrippa soon discovered that Julia
liked sex. In fact, she liked it a lot. Agrippa was 43 when he
married Julia in 21 BC, but he somehow
managed to give her five
children, including three boys, in the space of nine years.
at the age of 52 in 12 BC. His death was attributed to
natural causes, but my guess it was more likely from an
overdose of sex.
No doubt Julia took ten years off
the man's life by bedding him constantly.
upon Agrippa's death,
Julia was a widow for the second time.
Chapter Seven: Drusus and Tiberius
After the death of Agrippa in 12 BC, Tiberius and his
younger brother Drusus were named co-heirs to the throne of
a dark, brooding man who in many ways was
Richard Nixon. Like Nixon, Tiberius was an intelligent man
with talent. In particular, he was a good military leader.
However, due to the strange twists and turns of his personal
life, over time Tiberius would turn into a truly evil man. Tiberius was increasingly disliked due to his abuse
a man with no tolerance for criticism.
people disliked Tiberius, the meaner he got.
Tiberius' best friend in the world.
was unbelievably talented. Unlike his moody older brother,
Drusus was loved by all. He was a brilliant general and a
skilled fighter who demonstrated great courage. Rather than
watch his battles from safety,
Drusus regularly engaged the Germans in hand
to hand combat.
In addition to his military success,
Drusus was a
respected family man. He was married to Antonia
(#11), the step-sister
poisoned husband Marcellus. Antonia was the daughter of Mark
Antony (#3). Her mother was Octavia
(#10), the sister of Augustus. Antonia was the favorite niece of Augustus Caesar. Augustus
adored Drusus, Livia's son, as well.
Antonia had three children: Livilla
Claudius (#13), and
A person would be challenged to find
three more different children.
would one day turn out to be a military hero just like his
father. Livilla would one day become Livia's partner in
crime. As for Claudius, everyone thought he should have
been thrown to the wolves at birth. This
was a clumsy, stuttering, half-witted fool.
No one could have ever dreamed Claudius
of all people would become Rome's fourth emperor.
As for their father
Drusus, not only was he a true Roman
war hero, he was
one the few truly decent husbands around. As a proponent of
family values, Augustus was proud of Drusus for being loyal
to his wife and a great father. Drusus and Antonia
favorite couple of Augustus. If forced to choose between
Tiberius and Drusus to succced him, there was no doubt that Augustus would
have chosen Drusus.
This was a certainty that bothered Livia no end.
For reasons no one could decipher, Livia favored Tiberius
over Drusus. Livia was probably the only person in
Rome who would have chosen Tiberius over Drusus. After
Drusus was a gifted man, far superior to his moody brother
as a leader.
preference for Tiberius led her to make a strange decision.
difficult to conceive of a situation where a mother would
willingly allow a son as noble as Drusus to die, but
apparently that is exactly what Livia did.
The only explanation that makes any sense was
the threat Drusus presented to the Imperial throne.
Livia did not trust Drusus. Livia had
intercepted a letter from Drusus to Tiberius. Drusus had
written his brother to express his desire to eliminate the Imperial tradition.
Drusus was deeply committed to the return of Rome to a democratic Republic. In his
letter, Drusus explained his preference for a state in which
supreme power is held by the people and their elected
representatives. He strongly advocated having an elected
president rather than a monarch.
Livia shook her head in horror. Her entire life was
wrapped around supporting the Imperial system and now her
own son wanted to put an end to it.
As long as Drusus lived, Tiberius would never be emperor.
Livia knew that if Augustus
died, Drusus would inherit
the reins of power instead of his older
brother. At this point, she was convinced that Drusus would return
Rome to being a Republic. Livia
understood that Drusus had the
charisma to pull this off. Livia also understood that
Augustus loved Drusus so much that it would be too risky to
share her suspicions with her husband.
Augustus loved Drusus so much that he
would never believe her.
choice between backing her husband and
older son or backing her youngest
son, Livia sided with Tiberius.
to ever have a chance to become emperor, it would be
convenient if Drusus disappeared. And that he did.
It was Livia's way to eliminate all
threats to the throne, even if it was her own child.
So when the opportunity arose in 9 BC,
Livia took advantage to cause the death of Drusus.
Livia didn't actually murder Drusus, but she
did make sure her son would fail to
recover from a dangerous
off his horse in battle and badly injured his leg. When
Livia learned of her son's distress, she sent her personal
physician to the battle front with instructions to do
little to help the man recover. Since Livia's
explicit orders gave her personal physician
rank over the attending physician, her
crony was able to carry
out her wishes. Once gangrene set in, Drusus was a
on the Danube, Tiberius rushed to the side of his dying brother
the moment he heard. It was too late. When he was informed
of the doctor's
suspicious behavior, Tiberius had to
be restrained from killing the physician on the spot.
knew how his mother felt about Drusus and became suspicious
that she had meddled. This incident was a major step in
Tiberius' growing hatred towards his mother. Little
did Tiberius know that his mother was just getting started.
Livia's stated purpose in life was to advance Tiberius to
the throne. No obstacle was too great. To date,
Livia had eliminated Marcellus, the prime candidate to
succeed Augustus, as well as her own son Drusus, the most
popular man in Rome after Augustus.
Following the death of Agrippa in 12
BC, Livia was upset
because her plan wasn't working. Although
been able to get rid of Marcellus, Julia's first husband,
this move had badly backfired on her. After the mysterious
death of Marcellus, Julia had become available. Mending fences
with his old friend, Augustus suggested to Agrippa that he
marry his daughter Julia and become his declared successor.
one of the few obstacles that Livia could not eliminate.
Much to Livia's dismay, Julia turned out to be unbelievably
fertile. Julia bore five children including three boys who
would become direct heirs to her father's throne over
Tiberius because they shared the all-important Julio-Claudian
bloodline. With each new
birth, Livia died a million deaths. Who could have
imagined Julia could reproduce heirs faster than Livia could
Right now there was nearly an entire
basketball team of heirs growing up at the Imperial Palace
thanks to Julia's super-human sex drive.
Tiberius was now at best fifth in line for the throne.
What was Livia to do?
As the only child of the Emperor, Julia
(#8) had every privilege
a woman could hope for. It did her no good.
Julia was born to live a tragic life.
Earlier we learned that Julia was born to Scribonia, Augustus' first wife, on the
same day that Augustus divorced her mother. Talk
about a bad omen! Three days
later, Livia became Julia's stepmother. Despite a 19 year
difference in ages, Julia and Livia would one day become
bitter rivals. Livia was the last
person Julia wanted to tangle with.
died in 12 BC, Livia saw an opportunity. The longer
Augustus lived, one of Julia's boys would become
old enough to be his successor. However, in the short term, Drusus and Tiberius
were the most likely candidates to succeed Augustus until
the boys came of age. Drusus was
still alive at this point. So, how could Livia promote Tiberius
over Drusus? And, for that matter, how could Livia promote
Tiberius over Julia's sons by Agrippa?
Livia thought she had the answer.
Julia was a
widow for the second time. Noting that Marcellus and
Agrippa had been in line to become Augustus' successor,
Livia realized that if Tiberius married Julia, that would
fast-track Tiberius to the become the next heir in line.
Tiberius could then promote any male children from his
marriage to Julia over the male heirs from Julia's
reached the obvious conclusion. TIBERIUS HAD TO MARRY JULIA
AT ALL COST!!
this was correct thinking. Although
Julia and Tiberius had grown up together in the same
household, since they had no blood in common, they were
technically able to marry. Nevertheless,
this was a terrible idea.
Livia must have known there was at best only the most remote
chance this plan would work.
all, Julia had always
looked down on Tiberius. Tiberius, the thin-skinned,
unloved kid, knew full well that his step-sister Julia felt
he was inferior. He had resented
her tendency to belittle him ever since they were kids.
Second, who wants to marry their sister, even if she is a
However, we haven't even touched the real problem. Besides Drusus, Tiberius
had one other friend in the world. Her name was Vipsania
Agrippa. Tiberius was deeply in love with Vipsania.
So who was
Vipsania Agrippa? Vipsania Agrippa was the daughter of Julia's deceased
husband Agrippa by an earlier marriage. One
more thing... Vipsania was
wife. Furthermore, Tiberius wanted to keep it that
way. He loved this woman.
Adding to Tiberius' exasperation,
Vipsania was pregnant with Tiberius' first child!!
As one might imagine,
aghast at his mother's idea.
Did his mother really want him to divorce the
woman he loved in order to marry his step-sister,
a woman who could
barely tolerate him?
mother really expect him to divorce the gentle daughter of
the deceased Agrippa, the mother of his
unborn son, to marry the
shrew-like wife of the deceased Agrippa?
Livia replied, "that is exactly what I want you to do.
Do your duty."
reasoning was simple. If she could abandon her
first husband to
advance her own social standing, then she expected her son
to do the same.
didn't agree. He said the two situations were not
equal. Tiberius loved his wife dearly, but his mother
had not loved her husband. His
mother was nuts if she expected Tiberius to leave his best friend in the world.
How would he ever be able to look
Vipsania in the eye and explain this?
rebelled. He said he wouldn't do it.
Livia didn't care. She simply
her husband to order Tiberius to submit
for the good of the Empire whether he liked it
or not. Augustus wasn't so sure about this, but Livia was
relentless. Finally Augustus gave in. Emperor Augustus
ordered his stepson to marry Julia, his recently widowed
daughter, in order to secure the imperial succession.
Meanwhile, Julia wasn't one bit happy
about this idea. Did her father actually expect her to
have sex with such a repulsive man? Augustus replied,
"Yes, Julia, we need as many male heirs in this household as
Based on Roman law, neither
Julia nor Tiberius could refuse.
Consequently the marriage was shoved down their
throat. Completely against their will, they
were married in 11 BC. Tiberius was now
named the direct
successor to the throne.
So now we
know how Tiberius became emperor, right? Wrong. Livia's
plan backfired horribly.
idea was hopeless from the start. The spoiled and
sharp-tongued Julia was hardly a model replacement for the
demure and dutiful Vipsania.
Resentful at being forced into this stupid marriage, she
took her anger out on Tiberius. Treating Tiberius with
contempt, Julia cut this proud man to shreds with her
constant criticism. Plain and simple, Julia compared
Tiberius to her first husband Marcellus and
her second husband Agrippa.
She made it clear Tiberius would
never be the man that they were. In
other words, Tiberius wasn't good
enough for her. Why had she ever
agreed to this?
Trapped in a
horrible marriage, Tiberius missed his discarded wife
Vipsania terribly. He started to see her again secretly
even though he knew it was forbidden.
When Augustus found out... thanks to Livia, of course... he
banned Tiberius from ever setting eyes on his first wife
again... or else. Tiberius was forlorn.
One year into the marriage, Julia bore Tiberius a son. Unfortunately the child died in
infancy. That was the last straw for Julia. She was sick
and tired of being treated as little more than a baby
machine for the Roman Empire. Julia refused to ever let
this man touch her again. Julia went to her father and
said she had done her best, but this wasn't going to work.
demanded he send Tiberius to war, preferably some place
dangerous where a barbarian might stab the man to death.
With a heavy heart, Augustus sent Tiberius to the Danube
Tiberius was off fighting the Germans, in 9 BC he learned
that Drusus was dying. The combination of the failed
marriage and losing Vipsania was tough enough.
Drusus was more than he could bear. Lost in the grips of
despair, Tiberius began drinking heavily.
back at home, the moment Tiberius was gone, Julia took full
advantage of his absence. Julia turned into a predatory,
drunken nymphomaniac. She once gave herself to a lover on
the sacred speaker's rostrum of the Forum. Julia developed
a particular fetish for dwarfs. She made sure one
accompanied her wherever she went and demanded he satisfy
her on the spot whenever she was in the mood.
Tiberius returned from fighting Germans in 7 BC, he discovered his house
was being used as a brothel. He was dismayed to learn his
wife's outrageous behavior was the talk of Rome. Tiberius
was fed up. He
didn't want to have anything to do with Julia or Rome. To
hell with being emperor. Publicly humiliated by his wife's
antics and disgusted with his mother and stepfather,
Tiberius resigned his military position. He took the
next ship out of Rome for Rhodes, an island off the
southwestern coast of Turkey and began a self-imposed
exile. Tiberius was a broken man.
have cared less. She despised Tiberius. For that matter,
she hated the world and she hated her
lousy fate. She hated her father for forcing
this awful man on her. She hated her stepmother Livia
for interfering in her life. Julia was tired of being
told what to do. First she lost the
man she loved, her cousin Marcellus, at
Then she was forced to wed her father's elderly friend Agrippa at 17
loveless diplomatic union. She had
done her duty and
Empire three perfectly healthy boys to be trained as heirs.
Then to top it off, she had agreed to this ridiculous
marriage. Her disgust knew no bounds. What a farce this
marriage was. She was tired of
being treated like a piece of property, so now she openly
defied her father by demanding a divorce.
Tiberius' departure to Rhodes, her father granted her
wish. Free at last, petulant Julia continued pursuing a
life of hedonistic abandon. It doesn't take a degree in
Psychology to see Julia was in the process of saying 'F...
You' to Livia and Augustus.
done taking orders. She was going to do things her way
from now on. Julia was extremely beautiful and graceful, so
she could have as many men as she wanted. She was unable
to control her nymphomania and no one had the authority to
stop her for her own good... except for her father.
wasn't likely to happen because Augustus
had no idea what was going on. No one dared tell Augustus
what his crazy daughter was up to.
admitted lovers to her room in droves and participated in
nightly orgies throughout the city. Then she branched out
into having sex in broad daylight. She conducted daily
public meetings beside the statue of Marsyas, a Phrygian
Satyr who invented the music of the flute. Julia would
survey the men as they passed by and claim any man who
struck her fancy. Few men dared refuse the daughter of the
It was now 2
BC. Five years had passed since Tiberius left for Rhodes.
Amazingly, Augustus was still in the dark. Roman historian
Seneca reported that while Julia continued to bring enormous
scandal to the imperial home, her own father remained
the other hand, discovered what was going on. She sensed an
opportunity. Livia blackmailed one of Julia's countless
lovers. Did this young man really want to face her husband
the Emperor and confess his crime of adultery? Or would he
rather simply compile a list of some of the men Julia had
list grew long enough, Livia found a way to get a family
member to break the story to Augustus. Livia knew better
than to let her husband know her own fingerprints were all
over this ploy.
already guessed what Augustus would do. Sure enough, her 'family
values' husband Augustus was incredibly upset. Julia
had to be punished for her excessive debauchery. Reluctant
to execute her, Augustus decided instead to exile his
BC, Julia was confined on the small island of Pandateria.
There were no trees on the rocky isle.
There were no men in sight. Julia was
forbidden to even to drink wine. Left alone with only her
diseased mind for company, this island became Julia's living
Livia was thrilled. Julia had been a thorn in her side and
was a constant threat to tell her father of her growing
suspicions about her stepmother's secret acts. Now Julia
was gone. Good riddance!
in the meantime, Livia's campaign to make Tiberius emperor was blown to
pieces. And it didn't look like
Tiberius would ever get another chance. After banishing his daughter to a remote island,
Augustus held Tiberius directly responsible for his
daughter's shameful behavior. Augustus
told Livia he didn't want anything to do with
Tiberius ever again.
fit to be tied.
husband's dark mood
of Julia's little brats running around
the palace to make her life miserable, how would
Livia ever make her son the emperor?
It seemed impossible.
But don't ever underestimate Livia...
Chapter Nine: The Curse of the Imperial
At this point, Tiberius had no chance of becoming emperor.
The two men despised each other.
matters worse, Julia's three sons were growing up. These
were Agrippa's sons. In the eyes of
Augustus, these boys carried the intelligence of the
great general and the precious royal
blood of his exiled
daughter. The boys were smart as a whip and very
ambitious. Now that their mother
had been sent away, Augustus became
their surrogate father. He poured his heart and soul into
training these young men. He taught
them military strategy and
politics every chance he got. Augustus was content. He had
three competent young men in line for the throne.
Livia to do? Fanatically devoted to bringing her son
Tiberius to power, Livia had a steep hill to climb. Livia was undaunted. Years before, she had poisoned
Marcellus, Julia's first husband and Augustus Caesar's
choice as heir. Now she turned her evil eye to the three
boys. She decided to eliminate the boys one at a time.
In 2 AD, one heir - Lucius (#17) - was thrown overboard at sea by
the same man Livia had blackmailed to betray Julia.
Eighteen months later another heir - Gaius
(#16) - died
mysteriously in battle.
in shock. How was it possible for any man to have such bad
luck? Why did the Roman Gods view him with so much
seemed like he was plagued by one personal loss after
another. August had now lost five heirs... Marcellus, Agrippa,
Drusus, and now Agrippa's sons Gaius Caesar and Lucius
In a sense,
he had also lost Tiberius, but that was no great loss. On
the other hand, now that two of Julia's
three boys were gone,
maybe he should reconsider Tiberius. Nine years had passed
since the divorce. Julia was gone now, so maybe Tiberius
should be reinstated. After
all, Tiberius had done nothing wrong. So the marriage
failed? Given his daughter's scandalous behavior,
maybe Tiberius deserved another chance.
only two possible heirs left. One was Postumus,
youngest son of three. And of course Tiberius,
44. Due to all these deaths, Tiberius
was actually the only man left standing who
experience to run the Empire. Augustus was 67. This was no
time to be picky.
Augustus greatly preferred Postumus as his successor, the
boy was only 14. He was too young and too wet behind the
ears. If something were to happen to Augustus, at least
he was comforted by the fact that Tiberius had been a good general. Reluctantly the aging
Augustus summoned Tiberius back to Rome. At this point
Augustus made Postumus and Tiberius co-heirs.
immediately began quaking in his boots. Postumus was well
aware of the Curse of the Imperial Palace.
Losing his two brothers really had him spooked. The boy confided
to a friend that surely he would be the next to die.
Sad to say,
the boy was right. Five years later, in 9 AD, Postumus was
So what happened to Postumus? He
ran into a shrew-bitch named Livilla.
So who was
Livilla? Livilla (#12) was the daughter of Drusus, the one who
died of gangrene in 9 BC. Losing her father at age 4,
Livilla had grown up without much
guidance. Livilla had grown up to be a wild
No one could
tell her what to do.
married her cousin Castor (#20), Tiberius' only child by his first
marriage to Vipsania. Castor had suffered from the same
neglect as Livilla. Growing up in his mother's home, Castor
had virtually no relationship with his father Tiberius. He
turned into a moody, resentful bully just like his father.
Castor was no prize... but neither was Livilla.
They were both lowlifes.
couldn't stand her thug-like husband
Castor. So she started an
adulterous affair with the handsome Postumus, her distant
cousin. Livia picked up on it. Livia threatened
Livilla she was about to reveal
the affair to Augustus. Did Livilla really want to go live
on a wind-blown rocky island like Aunt Julia? Livilla quickly
caved in. She agreed to entrap Postumus in exchange for her
The next time Postumus entered her room, Livilla
let the young man get most of her clothes off before
screaming "Rape!" at the top of her lungs.
sprinting and witnessed Postumus as he
naked. Caught red-handed, Postumus never had a chance. He
knew he had been set up, but what could he do? The Curse of
the Imperial Palace had struck again. Down went another heir. With a heavy heart, Augustus sent Postumus into exile
on some lonely island.
abounded that something wasn't quite right. Since when had
a tramp like Livilla refused any man,
much less a stud like Postumus? All the
men had to do
was knock. Even Augustus was unsure. Augustus began to
suspect he may have been too hasty sending Postumus away.
Augustus was always the last one to know,
but now even he grasped there was something fishy going on
inside the Imperial Palace. He made a secret trip to see Postumus on his island and perhaps clear the air. Postumus
told Augustus that he believed Livia had been killing those who could
prevent Tiberius. This was way too much for Augustus to
believe. Nevertheless, Augustus promised to petition the
Senate to allow the boy's return.
learned of the secret meeting, her sixth sense warned her
that trouble was brewing. There was a strange look in her
eye. She decided it was time for
August to go.
Why wait? After all, Tiberius was in position to take
over. So Livia began to rub aconite, better known as wolf's
bane, on the figs ripening in her husband's beloved fig
grove. In 14 AD, Augustus died. He was 75.
loose ends, Livia's next step was to send an agent
named Sejanus to murder
Postumus on his island. There was no one left to oppose
death of Augustus, Tiberius took control. Rome was saddled
with a leader who had been turned by his mother into a
deeply bitter man. Needless to say, Augustus Caesar's
decision to turn the Empire over to Tiberius was
ill-advised, but what choice did he have?
Chapter Ten: Agrippina and Germanicus
The 9 AD
Battle of Teutoberg Forest was the worst defeat in Roman
history. Three Roman legions had been ambushed in a remote German
forest thanks to the brilliant deception of a traitor
named Arminius. Arminius led the Romans deep
into the German forest straight into a
well-executed trap. A three day
slaughter at the hands of the barbarians
left not one man standing. The result
was a staggering loss of
25% of the entire Roman
army. Proud Rome was deeply
In 12 AD, Germanicus had led
Roman troops deep into Germania to avenge
the bitter Roman defeat at Teutoberg. Following his
decisive victory, Germanicus was a
supreme hero. He became known as 'The Roman
Alexander the Great'. Germanicus
grew to become
the most respected man in the Empire.
A majority of the Roman people strongly preferred
Tiberius' nephew Germanicus as emperor over cruel
Tiberius. Why wait for Tiberius to die? Germanicus
would do just fine!
had been festering for several years.
Tiberius, always the
paranoid one, believed he could be
assassinated at any moment.
Therefore he monitored the Germanicus situation
closely. Tiberius really didn't know what to
do. After all, Germanicus (#14) was his
nephew, the son of his beloved brother Drusus (#6).
Tiberius was reluctant to take action.
was married to
Agrippina (#19). Agrippina was one of five
children born to Julia and Agrippa, the military genius who
was once the closest friend
of Augustus. Augustus loved
his granddaughter Agrippina
dearly. He was proud of her for giving birth to six
children. He Agrippina the Younger (#22), Lucius, Drusilla,
Drusus, Julia, and a strange kid named Caligula.
Augustus wasn't so sure about Caligula (#21). Noting
his bizarre tendency to crawl naked into the beds of his
three sisters, Augustus (and others) concluded there was
something not right about Agrippina's youngest son.
Augustus was equally proud of Germanicus,
34. This fine young man had become the spitting image of his amazing
father Drusus. Germanicus was not only
a brilliant general,
Augustus respected the man for paying
close attention to his wife and family.
and Agrippina and their six children
formed the shining light in the last years
of Augustus Caesar's life. Augustus had often expressed to Livia his
hope that Germanicus would one day succeed Tiberius as
emperor. Livia frowned every time
she heard that. The way Livia saw it, Germanicus was a real threat
to do just that. The only question was when?
After Augustus passed on in 14 AD,
Livia watched with concern as the popularity of Germanicus
grew by leaps and bounds. Livia knew full well the mob
wanted her gloomy son replaced with this hero. All
they needed was an excuse.
There was no love lost between Livia and Agrippina. Livia
was well aware that Agrippina hated her.
Livia knew that Agrippina suspected
that Livia had been behind the plot that sent her mother
Julia (#8) into exile.
Livia also knew that Agrippina had grown
into a dangerous rival. It was hard to predict whether
Agrippina would foment rebellion and try to propel her
husband to unseat Tiberius or simply attend to raising her
was a savvy woman indeed. Agrippina had grown up in the Imperial
Palace and had heard all the rumors about
the Curse. Agrippina needed
no convincing. She knew the Curse was real. She had
witnessed her mother being sent to exile in 2 BC
never to be seen again. Agrippina had been there when
her two brothers Lucius and Gaius had mysteriously died on
military missions. Agrippina had watched in horror
when her brother Postumus was
shipped off to a deserted isle
on trumped up rape charges never to be seen again.
Agrippina had watched as her hale and hearty grandfather
Augustus had mysteriously taken ill and died
soon after. In other words, Agrippina had seen it all. Agrippina
had her suspicions who was responsible
for all these mysteries and thus was on constant guard.
since the death of Augustus, Tiberius and his henchman
Sejanus had ruled Rome with an iron fist.
Although Tiberius was an able
administrator, the Emperor had become widely hated in
the process. Tiberius and Livia both
knew all Germanicus had to do was snap his fingers to
create an uprising. However, so far
Germanicus had been a true patriot like his father
Drusus. Rather than stir up
trouble, instead Germanicus
seemingly prevented civil war by
refusing to say or do anything to
unseat the tyrant. In the absence
of any discernable threat, Tiberius preferred not to take
action. Nevertheless, it was unsettling to know that
this man who was a threat to his power was allowed to
this tension, disaster struck in 19 AD.
suddenly died in Syria under mysterious circumstances.
Uh oh, here we go again. Rome
was shocked when Agrippina stated it was poison. The Curse of
the Imperial Palace had struck again. It was widely rumored
that Tiberius was behind it. Surely
he had executed Germanicus because
the man was judged
too great a threat. With the
now-widowed Agrippina pointing her finger
Tiberius, Rome was ready to revolt.
However, Tiberius denied any involvement.
The blame was shifted a disgraced
statesman in Syria named Piso. A
trial was scheduled for Rome. The citizens would await
the verdict before deciding to revolt.
Although we are getting a bit ahead of
the story, strangely
enough, it wasn't Tiberius who was
responsible for poisoning Germanicus. Tiberius had been falsely accused
by the bitter Agrippina. However, since Tiberius was
so disliked, no one took him at his word.
Tiberius had not snapped yet. He
may have been moody and depressed all the time, but there
was still a thread of decency in the man. Tiberius knew Germanicus was an
honorable man. Germanicus
was a threat indeed, but Tiberius
wasn't about to murder the son of his beloved brother
Drusus without good reason.
As it turned out, Livia was behind it.
was a rich woman married to Piso,
governor of Syria. Munatia
Plancina was a close friend of Livia.
The Roman historian Tacitus stated
that Livia secretly ordered Munatia Plancina to take this
action against Germanicus. Munatia
Plancina was supposed to have been in contact with a Syrian
preparer of poison called Martina.
However, her husband Piso refused to take such a risky
action without the expressed permission of the Emperor.
secretly borrowed her son's imperial seal and sent explicit
orders to Piso, the Syrian governor,
authorizing the action against Germanicus.
Believing he had been given a direct order from the Emperor,
Piso allowed his wife to give Martina the go-ahead.
Martina soon realized that Germanicus was too well guarded.
Fully aware the Curse could strike at any time,
Agrippina watched Germanicus like a hawk
at all times. So how did Martina get the poison past
Agrippina? Martina developed a rapport with
a very nasty little boy named
Whenever Martina came to visit the house, Caligula, age 7,
would hang around her and claim with great conviction that
he was born a god. One day Caligula was angry because
his father had disciplined him for sleeping naked in his
Martina asked the boy if he wanted to scare his father and
teach him a lesson. Caligula said yes. Martina
handed Caligula some food and told him to take it to
Germanicus, adding that this food would scare his father.
Martina added that scaring someone to death should be easy
for a god like Caligula. Then Martina asked Caligula
if he was afraid. Caligula shook his head no.
nothing to fear because he was a god
Martina had persuaded little Caligula of
all people into delivering
poisoned food to his own father.
clearly something not right about this boy.
Of course Caligula's mother Agrippina had
no idea what had taken place.
Cut to Tiberius
in his palace. Tiberius was
rattled at the immense outpouring
of public grief for Germanicus. His
henchman Sejanus did his to
best to reassure him, but it didn't calm
Tiberius at all.
have always preferred Germanicus
to me. Why is that?"
Livia: "You just
don't have a loveable nature."
stop worrying about it. No matter
how much Germanicus is profoundly loved, he's also
profoundly dead. Everybody's
loved when he's dead."
Tiberius: "Maybe they will love me
when I'm gone."
looked straight at Tiberius: "I wouldn't count on
that if I were you."
Fed up with
Livia's snide comments, Tiberius retorted,
"Has it ever occurred to you, Mother, that it's you they
hate, not me?"
there is nothing in this world that occurs to you
that has not occurred to me first, that is the affliction I
live with," replied Livia who, as
usual, got in
the final word.
Meanwhile, a couple weeks later
Caligula struck again.
was severely punished by his grandmother Antonia for
crawling into his sister Drusilla's bed naked.
Drusilla was 3 at the time. Caligula had been told
countless times not to do this again, so this time Antonia
lost her temper at the boy and yelled at him. Angry,
Caligula later set fire
to the family home in retaliation, burning it
completely to the
Something was definitely not right with this boy.
Keep in mind the kid was 7 years old. Perhaps a
little too much royal inbreeding...
Chapter Eleven: Tyrants and Democracy
Tiberius was a very complex man full of contradictions.
One need look no further than the Top 10 and Worst 10 lists
of Roman Emperors to grasp there were two distinctly
different sides to this man.
Tiberius came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, and
somber ruler who never really desired to be emperor.
However, he did his best for the first 9 years and his best
was good indeed.
In a way, it is a shame Tiberius
didn't just go ahead and die in 23 AD. Had he done so,
his name would be synonymous with Augustus and Julius.
Before becoming emperor, Tiberius was one of Rome’s greatest
generals. He conquered Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and
parts of Germania, the accomplishments which laid the
foundation for the northern frontier of the Empire. In
the beginning of his reign, Tiberius
authority of the Roman Senate and ran the government
He was an able administrator who prudence left the imperial
treasury swollen with 3 billion sesterces.
Unfortunately, in 23 AD, his paranoia
finally caught up to him. It was the bitter dispute
with Agrippina, the widow of his war hero nephew Germanicus,
that seemed to push Tiberius over the edge.
Tiberius might have survived the false
accusations if anyone had stuck up for him. However,
his gloomy and increasingly suspicious outlook won him few
friends. In the bitter dispute with Agrippina,
everyone assumed she was right.
Furious at being accused of murdering his own nephew,
Tiberius sank into morbid suspicion of everyone around him.
After retreating to the island of Capri, Tiberius revived
the ancient accusation of treason. He used
it to sentence to death anyone he suspected. This was
the start of the Great Purge.
The second half of the reign of Tiberius was not a happy
time for Rome. Tiberius had turned into a tyrant.
Rome had not been ruled by a tyrant for over 500 years.
The politics of Rome and Athens have
been studied for centuries. Political scientists claim
ancient Rome served as the perfect laboratory to study the
effects of different policies on the direction of the
Empire. Rome was particularly useful because it was
first a monarchy, then it was a republic, then it was a
monarchy again, then it was a republic again.
The conclusion was that both systems
had their pluses and minuses. The fortunes of Rome
rose and fell depending on the talent of each succeeding
Emperor. One conclusion the experts reached was that
When Rome was
led by the right person, their authoritarian system worked
the best. For example, the two Caesars used their
unchecked powers to effect rapid change.
Rome was fortunate to have two
brilliant men in a row write the laws and implement the policies that
became the foundation of the Roman Empire.
The problems came when Tiberius and
the succession of monsters took over. Men like the
'bad Tiberius', Caligula, and Nero came close to plunging
the realm into anarchy.
Once a country has been stuck with a
tyrant, it is in trouble because tyrants are difficult to
get rid of. This is when Democracy begins to look
pretty good. However, Democracy has its drawbacks as
well. For one thing, Democracies don't always elect
the most talented people, but rather the best talkers.
Back in the 1800s, a Greek and Roman
scholar named Alexander Fraser Tytler studied the Athens
system of Democracy carefully and reached the rather cynical
conclusion that a Democracy can only last about 200 years,
then it goes bankrupt.
"A democracy is always temporary
in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of
government. A democracy will continue to exist up until
the time that voters discover that they can vote
themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.
From that moment on, the majority
always votes for the candidates who promise the most
benefits from the public treasury, with the result that
every democracy will finally collapse due to loose
fiscal policy, which is always followed by a
The average age of the world's
greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has
been about 200 years."
In other words, the politicians who
promise the most hand-outs keep getting elected until the
Democracy runs up a debt approaching 20 trillion...
Then, if one can believe Alexander
Fraser Tytler, a bully will appear on the scene promising to
restore prosperity. Hitler, Mussolini, history
provides many examples of brutal men who took advantage of
deteriorating political climates.
Another problem is that
Democracy doesn't accomplish
much-needed change rapidly at all.
Due to all the checks and balances, finding a consensus on complicated issues seems to take
forever. Change is always difficult to embrace because it
risks making things worse rather than better. People are
always cautious because human nature prefers doing things
the way they have always been done.
resistance to change, only an Emperor or a King can bring
about change quickly. One good
example would be Napoleon. France was reeling from a
succession of do-nothing monarchs who stripped the national
treasury bare. Into this vacuum, Napoleon swept in and
instituted brilliant reforms. He not only revitalized
France, but by ridding Europe of the stranglehold known as
the Holy Roman Empire, he changed the political landscape of
the entire continent. Was Napoleon good or bad?
Tough call. I say both.
Another excellent example would be the
Russian despot Peter the Great, a man who was both ruthless
and brilliant. No one stood in Peter's way. That gave
Peter free reign to make changes. Through one
smart but painful decision
after another, Peter singlehandedly transformed a backwards,
illiterate Russia into a modern country. Keep in mind that
a lot of serfs suffered in the process.
The story of
Peter the Great bolsters the argument that the most
successful system of government is a truly enlightened,
benevolent monarch who can impose their will with little
opposition. Not every leader has to be ruthless. In a
manner similar to Augustus and his Pax Romana, Queen
Elizabeth I of England is often cited as the woman who
created the Golden Age of England. Sure, a few heads
rolled... Mary, Queen of Scots, comes to mind... but by and
large Queen Elizabeth steered a masterful path.
comes when the benevolent despot
is succeeded by a monster.
That is what happened in Rome's
case. How do the citizens
get rid of a monster Caligula, or Stalin
and Hitler for
that matter? The problems
experienced by Rome explains why Democracy is generally preferred over
autocracy. But even Democracy can
bring a tyrant to power. They
say power corrupts. Richard Nixon was a good example. So
was Juan Peron, dictator of Argentina. In the beginning,
Peron was democratically elected. Peron enjoyed immense
popularity during his first term thanks in large part to his
charismatic wife Evita Peron. However, after Evita's death,
Peron turned into a thin-skinned, iron-fisted dictator with
little tolerance for criticism or opposition. Peron shut
down the newspapers and the radios, leaving only his
government's voice to be heard.
America do not
know what it means to lose their beloved democracy.
We would flip out if our freedom was taken away. We
say that can't happen in America but maybe it could.
Anyone who lived through the era of the
Vietnam War recalls how many civil liberties were violated.
Thank goodness for Watergate, the mistake that took Nixon
democratic election of Juan Peron could open the door to a
dictatorship, then it behooves us all to
be vigilant. The
story of Juan Peron proves anything is possible when the
citizens elect a person who has little respect for
its nation's inherent checks and
Democracy may be mushy, messy,
slow-paced and wasteful, but the story of Rome shows it only
takes one tyrant for people to question the wisdom of
permitting authoritarian rule. Once the people of Rome
were stuck with Tiberius, the longing for the good old days
of the Republic became intense.
Escape to Capri
thing about Tiberius
is that he did not even want to be Emperor of
Rome. He resisted the idea more often than not. Tiberius
resented all the times his mother told him to be nice to Augustus
Caesar and play the game. Tiberius wasn't stupid. He knew
full well he was #6 in the line of succession to the
throne. What was the point of kissing up to his despised
stepfather? Since Tiberius refused to play ball, that's
when Mom went to work. Tiberius became Emperor only because
he was literally the last man standing.
Tiberius grateful to his mother? Absolutely not. Tiberius
detested his mother. Tiberius
loved to tell the story of the
time a poisonous snake bit his mother and died. Tiberius
could never forgive the forced marriage to Julia. But the loss of
Vipsania and his brother Drusus
hurt even worse. Livia's
constant meddling in his life threw him into total despair.
And who could blame him? Being forced to divorce the woman
he loved only to be trapped in marriage to Rome's most prolific
nymphomaniac would drive any man crazy.
Due to his
intense dislike for Livia, Julia, and his stepfather
Augustus, Tiberius grew bitter and hateful.
After his marriage to Julia, he kept as
much distance from the family as possible. This distance
explains why Tiberius had absolutely no idea that it was his
own mother that was systematically murdering or exiling one
legitimate heir after another.
Tiberius was just as clueless as his step-father Augustus
knew was that he despised Livia. The debacle over the
poisoning of Germanicus was pretty much the last straw.
Piso, the governor of Syria, was put on trial for the death
of Germanicus. However, to his dismay, Tiberius
received a nasty surprise. In
discrete conversations, Piso revealed that he had documents
from Tiberius that would prove Tiberius had ordered the
'hit' on Germanicus.
Tiberius turned white. He was
totally blind-sided by this development. How could
this be? After digging deeper, Tiberius suddenly
his own mother had
secretly used his
imperial seal to order Piso to murder
Germanicus in the first place. Now
on trial for his life, Piso was
produce those papers with Tiberius' name on it!
Tiberius went ballistic.
Tiberius realized he would have a world of trouble
persuading the Senate that those orders
to kill Germanicus were a forgery.
Who did his mother think she was to pull a stunt like that?
Tiberius ordered Sejanus to seize the papers at sword point before Piso could carry out his threat. This show of force
convinced Piso's wife that Tiberius would stop at nothing.
In the end, she murdered her own husband to save herself and protect the
lives of her children.
The trial of
Piso had been a close call for Tiberius. He hated his
mother for getting him into this fix. Tiberius was fed up.
Tiberius hated his mother, he hated Rome and he hated being
Meanwhile Agrippina was
still whipping the populace
into a frenzy. Realizing how much the citizens of Rome hated
him, Tiberius believed an
assassination attempt was just around the corner. Fearing
for his life, in 26 AD he abruptly decided to move to Capri. He left
his henchman Sejanus back in Rome to run the government in his place
while he skipped town.
ready for the ultimate irony? Ever since his ascension
to the throne, Tiberius had feared
assassination. Tiberius was well aware of the Family
Curse and it made him paranoid. Far too many people in the
Royal Family had a way of dying. Tiberius was dimly bright
enough to know that everyone in the royal family was
disappearing under strange circumstances, but not smart
enough to realize it was his own mother who was responsible.
Although Tiberius is said to have
moved to Capri to avoid assassination, there are those who
believe he left simply to escape his mother. Livia was
never permitted to visit Capri.
Last Days of Livia
The cold-blooded hit on Germanicus
would be Livia's final recorded evil. The amazing
thing is that Germanicus was her own nephew. What
woman murders her own nephew for the crime of being too
popular? Germanicus had never done anything to hurt
Tiberius, but Livia took him out anyway. This was a
very strange woman.
Germanicus died in 19 AD. Ten
years later Livia would die at the age of 89. Devoted
to bringing Tiberius to power and then maintaining him
there, legend has it that Livia was involved in nearly every
death or disgrace in the Julio-Claudian family up to the
time of her death.
It is difficult for normal people to
comprehend the behavior of a sociopath. In her
diseased mind, Livia believed her actions benefitted the
common good of the Roman people. Livia was determined
at all costs to never to allow 'Republican'
governance to rise again. She believed democratic rule
by the people inevitably invited corruption and civil war.
Therefore she justified her machinations as a necessarily
cruel means to an end. Livia would stop at nothing to
achieve her noble aspiration: The perpetuation of strict
Of course Livia had no way to see into
the future. In hindsight, her bizarre actions cost
Rome the leadership of many fine men... Marcellus, Drusus,
Germanicus, Postumus, Gaius, Lucius, and even the final days
of her own husband Augustus. Taking their place would
be monsters such as Caligula and Nero, the weakling
Claudius, and her paranoid son Tiberius.
In a sense, Livia poisoned her own son
Tiberius as well. Although Tiberius never swallowed
the belladonna that murdered Augustus, his spirit was
damaged beyond repair. It is fairly clear that Livia
took a man with considerable talent and hurt him so deeply
that he became a monster as well. With a different
mother, it is conceivable Tiberius could have become a fine
On her deathbed, Livia feared divine
punishment for what she had done. Calling her grandson
Claudius to her side, she secured his promise of future
deification just in case he ever rose above his current
humble position as court fool. Always the schemer,
Livia hoped that deification would guarantee some sort of
immunity from her sins.
Personally, I hope she rotted in hell.
The Caprineum Palace of
his own mother was the Curse in the flesh, Tiberius decided to
get out of
town while he still could. He moved to remote, ultra-safe
Capri where he built a giant villa overlooking a cliff.
It was called Villa Jovis
(Villa of Jupiter).
Right now Tiberius was bitter out of
his mind. This Agrippina bitch had driven him out of
town. His own mother had betrayed him. Sejanus
warned him there were countless plots of men ready to
assassinate him. Tiberius did not have a single
friend. Indeed, Tiberius felt like the most hated man
in the world... and he was probably right. Thanks to
Agrippina, the entire Roman Empire was convinced Tiberius
had murdered the finest man in Rome without just cause.
Tiberius felt more like an outlaw than an emperor.
Once he reached Villa Jovis, Tiberius
sunk into a darkness so deep there would be no return.
loved the privacy. Now that he had escaped the prying eyes
of Rome, he was able to indulge his sick fantasies to his heart's
delight. Tiberius turned his villa into a
Depravity. He would live out his
remaining 11 years engaged in constant
orgies. The stories about
this guy were hard to believe.
As historian Ronald Mellor (Tacitus, pg. 25) pointed
“According to Tacitus (a Roman historian), the gloomy,
paranoid, anti-social Tiberius was the most complex
character perhaps in all of Latin literature. Tacitus painted a picture of paranoid politics and moral
By the time
Tiberius became emperor in 14 AD, his relationship with his
mother soured. They had little to do with each other
from that point on. Upon Livia's
death in 29 AD at the age of 89,
Tiberius skipped the funeral and denied Livia all royal
the damage was done. His mother's cruelty had turned
her son into a monster. Freed of any constraints, Tiberius
indulged his bitterness by conducting
depravity on a scale unimaginable to any modern
reader. Thanks to a steady supply of helpless slaves
and little children who
were forced to succumb to his will, Tiberius engaged in
continual sexual profligacy.
Tiberius was a pedophile. Even
in his late seventies, sex with young children was one of
his favorite pastimes.
small boys. He took naked young boys into his pool and
raped them at will.
historian Suetonius (Tiberius 43-45) divulged the following
details about Tiberius’ licentious behavior:
“On retiring to Capri, Tiberius made himself a private
sporting-house where sexual extravagances were practiced
for his secret pleasure. Inside the vast marble halls of
the imperial mountaintop villa, Tiberius laid upon his
favorite recliner gorging himself with the best wine and the
finest food served by nude handmaidens. For his amusement,
troupes of beautiful youths of both sexes performed public
sex acts in an attempt to excite the elderly Emperor's
flagging libido. These youths had been gathered from all
corners of the Roman world and trained to
perform unusual sexual
A number of small rooms were furnished with the most indecent
pictures and statuary obtainable. Certain erotic manuals
from Elephantis in Egypt were shown; the enslaved inmates of
the establishment would know from these pictures exactly
what was expected of them. Tiberius devised little nooks of
lechery in the woods and glades of the island. He had boys
and girls dressed up as Pans, satyrs and wood nymphs
prostituting themselves in front of caverns or grottoes.
Ravaged by years of vile excesses, Tiberius had become a
hideous man to look at. His once handsome face was
disfigured by a form of eczema and covered with blotches,
scars and oily unguents prescribed by his physicians.
Brutality, too, marked his years in exile. One day when his
litter was struck a bush, Tiberius had the centurion who had
been sent ahead to clear the way stretched out and flogged
half to death as he watched.
Tiberius' brutality turned into sadism. One of his favorite
forms of torture was the penis wrap. Tiberius was proud
because he thought this one up himself. Tiberius would
trick men into loading themselves with copious draughts of
wine. Then when they were drunk, he would have armed guards
seize them and tie a cord around their penis. The stoppage
of their water created excruciating pain. The men would
scream in agony and beg to have the cord removed. Tiberius
took pleasure watching the lengths these men would go to
relieve the pressure. Most groveled
on the floor and pleaded for mercy.
Some aspects of his criminal obscenity were almost too vile to
discuss, much less believe. Imagine training little boys,
whom he called his ‘minnows’, to chase him while he went
swimming and to get between his legs to lick and nibble him.
Or letting babies not yet weaned from their mother’s breast
suck at his breast or groin. This
was the filthy old man he had
Then there was a painting by Parrhasius, which had been
bequeathed to Tiberius on condition that, if he did not like
the subject, he could have 10,000 gold pieces instead.
Tiberius liked the picture. It showed Atalanta performing
fellatio with Meleager. He hung it in his bedroom where he
could admire it any time he wished.
The story goes that once, while sacrificing to the Roman Gods,
Tiberius took an erotic fancy to the acolyte who carried the
incense casket. Tiberius could hardly wait for the ceremony
to end before hurrying the boy and his brother, the sacred
trumpeter, out of the temple and indecently assaulting them
both. When they jointly protested his disgusting
behavior, Tiberius had their legs broken.
The brothers were not the only ones to protest. Tiberius
played nasty tricks on women, even those of high rank. He
loved to humiliate married women by insisting they have sex
with him against their will. The best known story was
that of Mallonia.
Mallonia was a Senator's wife whom Tiberius summoned to his
bed. Mallonia was repelled by this horrible man. When she
vigorously refused to submit to his lust, he turned ugly and
slapped her. When she continued to resist, he kicked her
out of his chambers.
Mallonia left Capri filled with loathing. She told
anyone in Rome who would listen what Tiberius had done
Informed of Mallonia's repugnance, Tiberius was infuriated.
He set informers on her track and soon gathered enough
information to take her to trial in Capri. Throughout
Mallonia's trial, Tiberius continued to taunt her: ‘Are you
sorry you refused me?’
Finally Mallonia couldn't take it anymore. She left court and
went home. Mallonia let loose a violent tirade against fighting that
‘filthy-mouthed, hairy, stinking old man’ to avoid
having sex with him. When she
finished, Mallonia was suddenly overcome with an
overwhelming sense of futility.
What's the use of fighting? On impulse, Mallonia
picked up a knife and stabbed herself to death."
The atrocities did not stop with penis wraps and Mallonia.
At the end of the avenue which leads to Villa
Jovis, one can find the famous 'Leap of Tiberius'.
This was a cliff where, according to local legend, Tiberius
watched his enemies being tortured before being thrown 300
off the cliff into the sea below. When no enemies were
available, Tiberius found entertainment hurling servants
unwilling to play his sex games over the
cliff. Tiberius would watch with glee as they fell
screaming towards the sparking water below. For good
measure, Tiberius ordered soldiers to mutilate the broken
bodies at the bottom of the cliff, then throw the
severed body parts
to the frenzied sharks.
frequent bad moods, one can readily understand why the wives
of the Senators were willing to submit to the nasty sex
games of the Emperor. Otherwise
they might face the Leap of Tiberius.
of Capri became known as ‘Caprineum’, a term loosely
translated as 'The
Land of Debauchery'.
the emperor who never wanted to be emperor. When Tiberius
died in 37 AD, all of Rome rejoiced. Little did they know that
Tiberius would have the last laugh. Tiberius hated Rome and
himself so much that he deliberately allowed a madman -
Caligula - to become his successor.
How a man like this became the sixth best Emperor of Rome
completely staggers the imagination.
Too bad Tiberius didn't do society a
favor and simply die in 23 AD. History would have been
much nicer to him if he had.
Sejanus, Castor and Livilla
During the fall of Tiberius into
profligacy, there was a fascinating parallel story taking
place. Sejanus was a man
whose audacious plan began to succeed beyond his wildest
imagination. Our sordid
tale of the Roman Game of Thrones would not be complete
without a discussion of his limitless
One can look high and low, but the
name of 'Sejanus' did not appear anywhere on the
extensive chart of the Julio-Claudian family tree. That is because Sejanus
was not married to anyone in the family, mainly because
Sejanus did not have a single drop of royal
blood in him. Sejanus was
determined to correct that problem. Sejanus was a
member of the Equestrian class, one rank below the
aristocracy known as the Patricians. Sejanus had his
eye on moving up.
to power as prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard known as
the 'Praetorian Guard'. His father Strabo had been in the
Praetorian Guard and had gained the trust of Augustus.
Sejanus followed in his father's footsteps, serving for
twenty years before he caught the eye of Tiberius along the
way. When Tiberius became emperor in 14 AD, he promoted
Sejanus to be commander of the Praetorian Guard.
marked the start of Sejanus' seventeen year rise to power
due to his role as the right hand man of Tiberius. In
the beginning, Sejanus served as the hit
man for Tiberius.
Whenever Tiberius wanted someone removed, Sejanus was more
than happy to oblige. Over the years, Tiberius came to
trust Sejanus perhaps a little too much.
Tiberius did his best to run the Empire himself in the first half of
his reign, but reached a point where he was so disgusted he
transferred the day to day operation of the
government over to Sejanus for the remaining 11 years.
Now that he was essentially running
the Roman Empire, Sejanus began to entertain dreams of
becoming the next emperor. Only one man stood in his way:
Castor was the only child of
official name was Drusus Julius Caesar
(#20). His mother was Vipsania (#15)
dating back to Tiberius' sad,
ill-fated first marriage.
Castor turned out to be an anti-social thug like his father.
Although Castor's only talent was fighting, that
was good enough for Tiberius. Castor was made
the direct heir of Tiberius.
The feud between Agrippina and
Tiberius over the death of Germanicus would lead to profound
The AD 19 trial of Piso and the accusations of
Agrippina that he was responsible for her husband's death
took a real toll on Tiberius.
It was at this point when Tiberius began to lose interest in
politics. In AD 22,
he shared his tribunal authority with his son
Castor, then began making
frequent excursions to Capri
that lasted longer and longer each
Sejanus took note of Castor's
important new position.
asked himself how an employee of the
Praetorian Guard could ever possibly reach a goal as lofty as
Roman Emperor. This was a little
bit like a Knight of the Round Table trying to become king
or a Secret Service agent asking himself how he might
become President. Sejanus correctly analyzed there
were only two possibilities... marry
into the royal family and climb over someone's dead body.
body would have to be Castor. Sejanus had no problem with
that. He despised Castor and his
Sejanus and Castor had been rivals from the moment Tiberius
first appointed Sejanus head of the Praetorian Guard in 14
AD. For the past eight years the two men had butted heads
more times than anyone could count.
not trust Sejanus. He believed (correctly) that Sejanus was
trying to raise above his station in life. Castor was going
to make sure that didn't happen.
As heir to the throne, Castor stood in
In 23 AD,
the men came to actual blows. During an argument,
Castor lost his temper and struck Sejanus with his fist,
knocking the man to the ground. Sejanus knew better
than to fight back against the Emperor's son, so he slunk
off in disgrace. After the battle, Castor openly
lamented over his father's foolishness to
trust this man.
does Father invite this
commoner nobody to assist in the government
while the emperor's son is alive?"
were repeated to Sejanus. Infuriated at being publicly
humiliated, Sejanus lusted for revenge.
However, it was a race against time. With Tiberius
in his sixties, there was a real possibility Tiberius would
die and Castor would succeed his father in the near future.
To secure his position, Sejanus secretly plotted against
Castor. The most obvious place to start was the
seduction of Castor's wife.
This part of the plan was fairly
simple. Castor was married to a slut named Livilla.
(#12). It was her cry of rape that sent
Tiberius' final rival, into exile back in
In fact, it had been Sejanus himself who eventually put the man to death in 14
AD upon Tiberius' ascension to the throne. As
of several beatings at the hands of the brutish Castor, Livilla didn't like her husband any more than Sejanus did.
The enemy of my enemy is my next boyfriend. Sejanus and
Livilla were perfect for each other.
as his accomplice, Sejanus taught her how to slowly poison
her husband. Livilla took great delight and did a masterful
job. Because she took her sweet time, Castor seemingly died
of natural causes on September 13, AD
23. No one suspected
just lost his only heir.
Understandably upset, Tiberius retreated into remorse.
With Tiberius taking a back seat and his son gone, there was
no one else, so Sejanus essentially stepped into the
Emperor's role. He began to speak for Tiberius and run
Now it was
time for Stage Two of Sejanus' plan. After allowing a
respectful amount of time to pass, Sejanus intended to ask
Tiberius' permission to marry Livilla. This would make
Sejanus a member of the Royal Family and put his name on the
chart. Once married to Livilla, Sejanus would become a
candidate for emperor, a position for which Tiberius had named no
Sejanus assumed that once he
married Livilla, he would automatically
be appointed successor to
Tiberius. Who else had his
Sejanus let two years pass by. During this time,
Tiberius continued to hand increased powers to Sejanus. Just when
Sejanus thought he had become indispensable, in
25 he asked Tiberius for permission to marry Livilla.
Sejanus had played his cards well. He was 98% certain
Tiberius would agree to the marriage.
But Tiberius had
other thoughts. Not so fast, kid.
Tiberius blocked the proposed
marriage to Livilla.
"Why not?" Sejanus asked.
warned Sejanus that he was in danger of overstepping his
rank. Patricians only marry
patricians. Sejanus was in shock. This was a huge slap in the
face. At this point, he had never
hated anyone more than Tiberius. But he didn't let it
this sudden denigration, Sejanus moved on
to Plan B.
He decided his best bet was to further isolate Tiberius from Rome. Sejanus knew exactly
what nerve to strike...
Tiberius was deathly afraid of
assassination. Since Sejanus was practically Tiberius'
only link to the world, Sejanus knew he
could manipulate the man by
whispering there were threats
hiding behind every curtain.
Sejanus was greatly aided in his task
grieving widow of Germanicus.
Agrippina was still bitter over
the poisoning death of her husband.
Staring morbidly for days on end at her husband's
ashes, Agrippina was obsessed with finding justice.
It was now AD 26.
The trial of Piso was six years in the past, but Agrippina
was still convinced that Tiberius had a hand in her husband's death.
didn't mind sharing her theories to anyone who would listen. Her
big mouth played right into the hands of Sejanus. Sejanus
relayed one convincing story after another of how Agrippina
was stirring up
assassination plots. Perhaps
some of the tales were even true. After all,
Agrippina truly despised Tiberius.
worked like a charm. Playing
on Tiberius' ever-growing paranoia, Sejanus had the old man
convinced he was about to die unless he
did something fast. What
should Tiberius do?
had a suggestion. Why not move to Capri?
Tiberius would be safe there. Sejanus
said he would be glad to run the government in Tiberius'
This idea sounded very good to Tiberius.
He was sorely tempted to tell Rome to
'take this job and shove it'.
The death of his son and this feud with Agrippina had aged
Tiberius considerably. Tiberius had worked hard for the past 12 years and all he
had to show for it was the hatred of every man, woman and
child in the realm. Tiberius
despised his job. These death threats were the final straw. In 26 AD, 12 years into his reign, Tiberius abruptly moved
to Capri to avoid imminent assassination.
left in charge of the entire state mechanism and the city of
Rome. This was akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse,
but Tiberius didn't care. His contempt for Rome was
off the charts.
As he sailed across the Bay of Naples to Capri, he waved
goodbye to death threats, Livia, Agrippina, and his unwanted job.
All his problems were solved. It
was time to have some fun. Find me a naked boy to
fondle my genitals while we
Keep in mind that Capri was 120 miles
from Rome, a good two-day journey. Surely there were
carrier pigeons, but Sejanus made sure his men in Capri
intercepted every message. Since Tiberius was
totally cut off from the daily activities of government, Sejanus
was the only link of information
from the Senate to Tiberius.
He could tell Tiberius anything he wanted and know that
Tiberius wouldn't check behind his back.
Tiberius didn't care. He was too busy watching naked
nymphs frolic in the garden
Acting as Regent, Sejanus
had virtually total
control of Rome. Let the Purge
begin! And with that,
began his reign of terror.
Only the presence of Livia, an old enemy,
kept Sejanus in check. Sejanus knew full well that no
matter how much Tiberius hated his mother, she
might have some way to get a message
through. However, the woman
was growing increasingly feeble. All Sejanus had to do
was bide his time.
The death of Livia
came in AD 29.
There was no love lost. Tiberius
didn't even bother to attend the funeral. It
conflicted with his favorite day to
push someone off the cliff.
Once Livia was in the ground, this was the chance Sejanus
had been waiting for.
He immediately escalated the Purge of
Rome. Sejanus initiated a series of purge trials of senators and
wealthy equestrians in the city. One by one he removed
those capable of opposing his power. Seizing their estates,
he added untold amounts of money to his personal treasury.
Putting the money to good use, he hired networks of spies
and informers. One victim after another was brought to
trial with trumped-up accusations of treason. Many chose suicide
over the disgrace of being condemned and executed. Tiberius was so
preoccupied with his orgies that he
had no desire to visit Rome.
Whose wife would he let Caligula
bugger tonight? Tiberius never imagined
could be so fulfilling.
As was discussed earlier, it only
takes one tyrant to make that sloppy form of government
known as Democracy look good again.
Innocent people were dying and the rights of the people were
trampled on. This was a shame, but what could anyone do to oppose
Sejanus? The man was a tyrant in every sense of the
term. Any man in the Senate who mounted opposition
to Sejanus soon found himself in terrible
danger of facing the treason courts. Nor could anyone
Tiberius to intercede. Sejanus controlled access to Tiberius, whose
position atop the cliff in Capri made him inaccessible. The Senate
had little choice but to kowtow to the man who
controlled 9,000 Praetorians and 1,000 informers within the walls of Rome.
Now that Sejanus had Rome under his
In 30 AD,
Sejanus pulled off a grand triumph. At the suggestion of
Tiberius, he had Agrippina and
Drusus, her sons, arrested. After a monkey
trial, all three were exiled.
Locked in prison
on the island of Pandataria, Agrippina
continued to protest violently.
suggested Sejanus order a guard to flog her.
during the flogging
Agrippina lost an eye. Now
Agrippina refused to eat.
The guards tried to force-feed Agrippina,
but she somehow managed to starve herself to death.
Since Agrippina was out of sight,
the public never even knew.
Sejanus reported her fate to Tiberius, the old man
nearly died of laughter. Cackling
with delight, Tiberius exclaimed, "She should have kept
her mouth shut!"
Her two sons
didn't fare much better. One was murdered and the other
With the death of Agrippina, the Purge
came to a halt. There were no real targets left and no
one dared say a word in protest.
there was still
one rival who had escaped the
wrath of Sejanus. Who could that be?
Caligula, 19, had managed to survive the
He had Tiberius to thank for that. Shortly before Sejanus
made his move on Agrippina, Tiberius had invited this
strange boy, the third son of Agrippina
no less, to come spend some time with him at Capri.
And why was that?
Plain and simple, Tiberius
Even monsters want friends.
someone twisted like himself to share
his perversion playground. Who better than Caligula?
Ever the tease,
Caligula played hard to get. That is when Tiberius
said Caligula could bring his sisters along. Once Tiberius added that he had a bed big
enough for all three sisters at the same time, that sealed
the deal. Villa Jovis proved to be the perfect
training ground. Caligula acquired his taste for
deviance under the Master.
notwithstanding, Sejanus was on top of the world. Through
an endless series of crafty
intrigues including the murder of Castor,
the isolation of Tiberius, and the execution of Agrippina,
Sejanus had made
himself the most powerful man in the Empire.
Sejanus needed was Livilla.
Sejanus had a
bold idea. Why not simply tell the Senate that
Tiberius had approved his betrothal to Livilla? Who
would dare call his bluff? No one. It had been five
years since Tiberius was last
seen in Rome. The Senate was
used to taking Sejanus' word on everything. So in AD 31, Sejanus simply announced to
the Senate that Tiberius had given
his consent. Then he produced a
forged document with what seemed to be the Seal of Tiberius as proof.
Sejanus had conveniently had a Seal of his own made just for
occasions such as this.
As he expected, with most of the political opposition crushed
and Tiberius invisible, no one dared
challenge Sejanus's claim.
The only ones who remained were scared to death of
the man. Why risk one's life over a
tramp like Livilla?
Sejanus smiled. He smugly believed his lie about Livilla's betrothal was unassailable.
Once he was married to Livilla, all Sejanus
had to do was wait for the old man to die and he would
suddenly it all fell to pieces...
The compete truth of
Sejanus' downfall was never told, but
most historians are convinced that Antonia, sister in law to
Tiberius, was the most likely culprit. At age 67, Antonia
(#11) was the most respected woman
in Rome. Antonia was the daughter
of Mark Antony and Octavia (#10), the venerable sister of Augustus Caesar.
husband had been Drusus (#6), the
beloved brother of Tiberius who had died of gangrene.
Antonia was the mother
of Claudius, Livilla, and Germanicus.
Antonia and Tiberius had long
enjoyed a warm relationship. After the death of Drusus, out of respect
for her remarkable husband Drusus, Antonia had never remarried.
A chaste and dignified woman, Antonia's loyalty to the memory of her
fine husband had deeply endeared her to Tiberius.
Unfortunately, the nasty feud with
Agrippina over the death of Germanicus had almost put a
wedge in their relationship.
the mother-in-law to Agrippina
(#19), the widow of
Antonia's beloved son Germanicus. Naturally
Agrippina had tried very
hard to convince Antonia that Tiberius had a hand in
Germanicus' death. To her surprise,
Agrippina got nowhere. Antonia
said Tiberius for all his faults would never murder the son
of his brother Drusus. Forced to take sides, Antonia had stuck up for
woman who was a perpetual thorn in his side.
Tiberius remembered full well that Antonia was the only
person in Rome who had stuck up for him.
The marriage ceremony was already being
planned. Surely someone would notice that Tiberius
wasn't present. Sejanus had a ready answer - Tiberius
had not been present at his mother's funeral either.
Meanwhile, with Sejanus poised to see his dreams
come true, Tiberius remained completely in the dark.
Sejanus was certain he could pull this off. What he
didn't know, however, was that Antonia, Livilla's mother,
was growing more suspicious by the day.
In 23 AD,
had observed that
her daughter Livilla had shown no remorse when her husband
Castor passed away after his lengthy
illness. Soon after the funeral,
Antonia had noticed a carefree
laughing in the arms of Sejanus
when the girl thought no one was looking.
Antonia's instincts had told her something was not right.
In 30 AD,
Sejanus had sent Agrippina, Antonia's daughter in law, into
exile, as well as two of Antonia's
grandsons. Unable to save them,
Antonia was understandably quite bitter
AD, Sejanus announced his betrothal to
Livilla, adding that Tiberius had given his blessings.
Antonia raised an eyebrow because she knew full well that
Tiberius had been completely opposed to the idea back in 26
AD. Maybe Antonia should take a
trip to Capri and check this out for herself. Antonia
was convinced that Sejanus was
up to no good.
straw came from an unlikely source, a woman named Apicata.
Apicata was a scorned woman. She
was the abandoned wife of
Sejanus. She was also the mother of
his three children. Once Sejanus took up
with Livilla, he kidnapped his three children and would not
allow their mother to see
them. Apicata had come to ask Antonia to
intervene. Could Antonia possibly persuade
Livilla to speak to Sejanus
broke down in tears
as she spoke. Touched, Antonia
realized Apicata was a woman who loved her children.
Now she became curious. Maybe this woman
knew something. So Antonia began to
question Apicata. As the
conversation continued, Apicata began to trust Antonia.
Finally, Apricata decided to take a risk and share
her deepest suspicions. Apicata explained to Antonia that
Sejanus had begun an affair with Livilla
long before Castor's death. Apicata had spent far too
many nights alone when Castor was away fighting wars. Antonia's eyes grew
wide when Apricata added her husband Sejanus was a master of poison. In her heart,
Sejanus could very well have been responsible for the death of his rival Castor.
After all, who stood to gain the most from the man's death? Apicata had no
proof, but she believed Sejanus and Livilla had worked
together to murder Tiberius' son. Castor's death had
seemed much too convenient.
nodded. She believed everything the woman had told
her made sense.
Apicata departed, Antonia quietly visited
one of Livilla's
servant slaves. Under direct questioning, the servant broke down and said things that seemed to support Apicata's theory.
Antonia reassured the servant she would be in
no trouble unless she mentioned this conversation to
Livilla or anyone else.
Then Antonia could not protect her.
Suffice to say, the servant understood exactly what Antonia
meant. The woman promised to keep their talk a secret.
decided her next step
would be a secret trip to Capri to
see Tiberius, her brother in law. She
nothing to Livilla for fear Sejanus would be alerted. When
Antonia reached Capri, the
guards at the villa were under strict
orders not to permit anyone
to see Tiberius without written
permission from Sejanus.
However, they trembled at the thought of denying entry to
the Great Lady of Rome. All Antonia had to
do was scream and perhaps someone would
hear her and relay a message to Tiberius.
matter, Antonia made it clear she wasn't leaving.
Antonia was ready to
stand at the gate all day. Someone would surely
recognize her and
pass the information to Tiberius. The guards did not
dare touch this formidable woman. They knew they were
speaking to the daughter of the famous Mark Antony.
They knew Antonia was the favorite
niece of Augustus Caesar. They knew she was the sister in law
Since no one dared touch Antonia or tell
her to leave, one way or another Tiberius would eventually
learn that the
the leading lady of Rome, was here in Capri to see him.
When that happened, the wrath of Tiberius guaranteed their heads would roll.
were the guards more afraid of, Sejanus or the Leap of
Tiberius? Meanwhile, Antonia just stood there staring
at them. Under the
woman's imperious gaze, the guards'
felt their courage weaken. Finally they stepped aside.
point in time, Tiberius was a jaded, cynical,
man. However, no matter how much
evil consumed him,
Antonia was probably the last person left on earth that Tiberius
trusted implicitly. As paranoid as Tiberius
was, it didn't take much for Antonia to convince him that
Sejanus had used Livilla to murder his only son.
Weary old Tiberius had
long held suspicions of his own.
found an ambitious man named Macro in the Praetorian Guard
stationed at his villa in Capri. Macro was willing to
follow Tiberius' orders to round up enough men in Rome to
take Sejanus down. Tiberius
issued papers with his seal on it plus personal information
known only to certain men in the Senate. There could
be no doubt this document revealed the will of Tiberius.
Tiberius handed Macro the documents and told him to go to
work. Macro now had the authority to raise the army if
necessary. Sejanus never saw it coming.
executed on Tiberius’ orders. At Antonia's request,
she personally took charge of daughter Livilla's
punishment. Antonia imprisoned Livilla in her room
at the Palace. No matter how much Livilla screamed and
begged for mercy, Antonia never opened the door again nor
said a word. She simply
starve to death... alone.
Sejanus' execution, Macro was put in charge.
However, Tiberius had learned his lesson. This time Tiberius
made sure that other lines of communication stayed open so
that Macro could not grow too strong.
Six years later, both
Tiberius and Antonia died in 37 AD. An era had
Now it was
Caligula and Claudius
Germanicus died at Antioch in AD 19, his wife Agrippina
returned with her six children to Rome. Now she became
entangled in a bitter feud with Tiberius. The conflict
eventually led Tiberius to murder Agrippina as well as
two of her boys.
Agrippina's three daughters as well their strange brother
Caligula were spared.
the nasty, cocky teenager, in AD 31 had
Tiberius invited Caligula, 19, to join him on the
island of Capri. Much to the amusement of Tiberius,
Caligula had great fun participating in his uncle's
perverted sex games. Realizing what a horrid little
viper this boy was, Tiberius surely
relished the thought of turning
this sicko psycho sociopath loose on Rome.
Consumed with bitterness, Tiberius
decided Caligula was just what Rome deserved. So he made
Caligula his heir.
During his time at Villa Jovis,
Tiberius married for the first time. The lucky bride
was Junia Claudilla. He got her pregnant while he
still lived on Capri. Sad to say, the marriage did not
last long. Claudilla died in childbirth four months
death of Tiberius in AD 37, Caligula succeeded his grand
uncle and adoptive grandfather as emperor. From the
moment Caligula took power, the people near the throne
realized there was something seriously wrong with this young
man. Seriously wrong...
after his coronation, Caligula fell ill.
In tremendous pain, Caligula believed he had been poisoned. Unfortunately,
Caligula recovered from his illness. The assumed
assassination attempt left the
young emperor bitter and diabolical. Now he started to
kill off or exile anyone he saw as a serious threat.
The carnage was wide-spread.
survived the latest purge.
Caligula spared his uncle Claudius only because Caligula
preferred to keep this supposed half-wit around as a laughing
stock. Little did Caligula realize his stuttering
uncle was actually quite intelligent.
Long ago Claudius
had learned to act the fool because it was the only
thing that kept him alive during Livia's
reign of terror. As Caligula mocked
his stuttering, limping uncle, Claudius was well aware
his feeble act
had saved him again.
There is story after story about
rampant sexuality. This stuff was so crazy, one
assumes it must be true because no writer could possibly
have an imagination this vivid. Seriously, if only
half the tales told about Caligula were true, he would still
go down in history as the most debauched predator who ever
walked the earth.
Caligula did not see himself like
mortal men but that of a divine god. Perhaps
he felt his divinity gave him the right to screw anything in
sight because that's pretty much what he did.
not only committed incest with
his three sisters, he prostituted them to other men whenever
the whim crossed his mind. Killing people on
turning the palace into a brothel and declaring himself a
God were just some of Caligula's antics.
When Tiberius died in AD 37,
Caligula was temporarily without a wife. So
what? Caligula simply installed
his three sisters as rotating
Empresses, then resumed having sex
with them at the Palace.
Drusilla was his favorite.
her virginity when she was
11. He was once caught having sex with
Drusilla by his
grandmother Antonia, but Caligula
didn't care. He
resumed having regular sex with her soon after.
In fact, Caligula continued to have
intercourse with Drusilla
even after she married
her husband Cassius Longinus,
a consul of Rome. As if that wasn't enough,
Caligula decided to keep her at the palace as
if she were his lawful wife.
Orestilla was the second
wife of Emperor Caligula.
It was AD 38. It was
her wedding day... but not to Caligula. She
was marrying Caius Piso.
Caligula took a shine to the woman. Caligula
ordered the groom to annul the marriage so he could
have her instead. That is correct... the
ceremony had just concluded when Caligula ordered
that Orestilla be escorted from the wedding party
and placed in his bed to await his glorious
issued a proclamation that he had
invoked the grand tradition of that famous wife
stealer Augustus Caesar. Reminding everyone of
the story of Livia, Caligula claimed being Emperor
gave him the right to take any wife he desired for
his own. No doubt Augustus turned over in his
This second marriage was even
shorter than the one to Junia Claudilla. It
lasted one day.
was disappointed with Orestilla's
bedroom performance because he divorced her on
the following day. However, Caligula added a
bizarre condition. He told
she was prohibited from
returning to any
relationship with Piso again. Orestilla
ignored the demand. Bad move. Two
years later Orestilla and
Piso were banished to a distant island.
Their crime? Adultery.
Caligula enjoyed stealing Orestilla so
much, he did it again. He stole Lollia
Paulina from another consul. Lollia
Paulina became Caligula's third wife and consort and Roman
Empress for six months in AD 38. Some men just commit
adultery, but not Caligula. He was such a nice guy he
let his conquests be Empress of Rome.
Caesonia was Caligula's fourth wife.
not only married when Caligula seized her, she was pregnant
as well. Caligula didn't care. He actually liked
Caesonia... and she liked him too, a thought that boggles
the mind. The historians suggest that Caesonia wasn't
much of a catch. Caligula made a regular practice of
claiming any woman who struck his fancy, so why would settle
for a homely woman like Caesonia?? Described as borderline ugly,
Caesonia was not only much older
than Caligula, she had lost her figure after bearing three daughters. And
get this... Caesonia was of humble birth! One
historian was so appalled by Caesonia's
unattractiveness, her plump body and her lack of any pedigree that he wrote
a story suggesting she had used a magic love potion to
persuade Caligula to marry her. No other explanation
The funny thing here is not the
explanation, but rather the fact that someone
actually tried to make sense of Caligula.
Caligula did offer one hint. He
said he was very impressed with Caesonia's voracious sexual appetite.
Perhaps that was her secret. Caligula had an odd way
of showing his affection. Caligula would parade
Caesonia in front of his troops. Then he would
jokingly threaten to torture her or kill her to much nervous
laughter. Why say it with chocolate when torture will
do? Other times Caligula would have his wife walk around naked in
front of select friends. If they showed sincere
appreciation, he might let them have her.
Caligula eventually realized he could not
steal every wife in the realm. So he developed a new
trick. Why not just borrow them instead?
Caligula regularly invited colleagues
and their wives to dinner. Considering
his reputation, who would accept? But appear they did.
Caligula would have the wives
front of him and decide at leisure
which wife or wives
he would defile that night.
However, Caligula didn't stop there. Afterwards, he
would return the wife to her husband and report to the
how well or badly the wife had performed in bed.
Caligula enjoyed men as well. He
didn't particularly care whether the men were homosexual or
not. If he saw one he liked, well, take a guess. Caligula was not
unappreciative. He had a generous streak.
If he particularly liked one of the
men, sometimes Caligula might offer one of his three sisters
as a treat. If the man didn't want her, well, no
problem, Caligula would take her himself for old times sake.
One day Caligula
decided to have intercourse with a
young man named Valerius Catullus.
Valerius came from a proud consular family.
Keep in mind that a consul was the highest elected political
office of the Roman Republic. This young man carried
himself with a dignity in keeping with his father's lofty station in life. As it turned out, Valerius was also
quite handsome. When Caligula laid his eyes on the
boy, it was love at first sight. Aroused, Caligula
threw the boy on a nearby couch and took him against his will. Afterwards, the young man cried his eyes out
after being repeatedly raped.
Incest, rape, adultery, degradation...
there was no end to the stories. Caligula's
penchant for cruelty, sadism, and
sexual perversion seems to have been
It was the Theater of the Macabre.
If it wasn't for the horror Caligula spread far and wide,
some of his antics were so absurd, they were actually
amusing. For example, one of
the most famous stories about Caligula was the time he
promised to make his horse a consul.
Caligula even went to the trouble of appointing an
to prepare the horse for the sacred ritual.
Too bad Caligula did not
follow through on his threat. Wouldn't it be grand to see Caligula try to steal
the horse's wife?
The horse incident
was a clear signal Caligula was losing his mind. Soon
after, Caligula became dangerously psychotic after an apparent
epileptic seizure. He awakened from
a coma believing that he had
metamorphosed into the god Zeus.
out of his mind, Caligula decided to reenact the birth of Athena.
Drusilla was pregnant at the time.
Caligula picked up a
knife and began cutting his imaginary child from the womb of
a horrified, screaming Drusilla.
As his sister slowly died before his eyes of her wounds,
Caligula had no idea what he had done. Caligula
had committed an unforgivable crime. He was clinically
The Zeus story is
held in dispute by different historians.
Whether it is true or not
makes little difference. What is important is that
hopelessly insane. His own
Praetorian guards decided they had no choice but to
AD 41, Caligula was struck down by assassins while attending
a private theatrical performance.
After Caligula's assassination, the
men headed over to the Palace
intent on murdering everyone they could find.
They were determined to rid Rome of this horrible bloodline once and for all.
After the murderers entered the palace,
soon discovered Caesonia and her little daughter Julia
Drusilla. When Caesonia realized Caligula was dead,
she collapsed with grief. Then she composed herself
and rose back up. Caesonia bravely offered her neck to
the assassin and told him she was ready to die. He killed her without hesitation.
Then for good measure the man killed the small daughter as
they missed someone...
survived the blood bath. During the massacre, a
soldier found Claudius quivering in
terror behind a curtain.
Recognizing the man as a harmless old fool, the guard
decided to spare him. He spirited Claudius out of the city
and left him in the care of a sympathetic faction of the
Praetorian Guard. Once they realized poor bumbling,
stumbling, stuttering Claudius was the only man left in Rome
with a drop of royal blood, Claudius was named the fourth
Claudius was afflicted with a limp and slight deafness due
to sickness at a young age, his family had ostracized him
throughout his childhood. As the
Curse of the Imperial Palace struck down one healthy companion after
another, Claudius had the sense to realize
his infirmity was
the only thing saving him.
No one bothered to kill Claudius because
it was impossible to see
this feeble-minded weakling as a serious threat.
No doubt this
clever disguise saved Claudius from the fate of many other nobles
during the purges of Livia, Tiberius and Caligula.
would rule for 13 years. To everyone's surprise, Claudius
proved to be an able and efficient administrator. Not only
that, under Claudius, the Empire underwent its first major
expansion of territory since the reign of Augustus.
became regarded as a good
emperor. Not bad for a man who spent his life
pretending to be a stuttering fool.
was 15 when she became the third wife of Claudius in AD 38.
History records that Messalina was a serious hottie.
Unfortunately she was also pure evil. It is difficult
to conceive why a woman of her caliber would agree to marry a 50
year old man who drooled and stammered. Claudius was
not Emperor at the time nor could anyone have foreseen the
bizarre events that would later eventually bring him to the
throne in AD 41.
Therefore one has to assume that Messalina (#25)
married Claudius to enter the Royal family. From
there, she would take countless men as lovers while Claudius
remained woefully ignorant to her true nature.
Messalina's son Britannicus was born
three weeks before Claudius was found quivering behind a
curtain. This was quite fortuitous because now
Claudius had the all-important male heir.
Considering his wife was notoriously unfaithful, it seems
unlikely the child was sired by Claudius. However, as
we shall see,
it didn't make much difference.
Claudius assumed power, his first order was to bring
back his nieces
Agrippina (#22) and Julia Livilla
(#24) from exile. Agrippina
had the sense to stay in the background,
but Julia Livilla made the mistake of showing her gratitude
the beautiful Julia
endeared herself to the Emperor,
Or perhaps she feared the two sisters and their
husbands might lay claim to the throne.
Claudius was a pretty soft target; why take a chance? Julia
Livilla had to go.
various charges, adultery among
others, against Julia. Messalina
convinced Claudius, a complete wimp
totally dominated by his wife, to exile the
woman. Once gone, Messalina made sure Julia would
die from starvation when Claudius wasn't
use of trumped up charges like those against Julia was
typical. Although Messalina was naked most of the time,
she was the one who wore
the pants. Messalina brought
allegations against anyone who opposed her and the timid
Claudius would not intervene.
For example, one victim had to die simply because Messalina coveted his
was regularly unfaithful to Claudius.
It is said that Claudius was totally in the dark that his wife
was having sex with half the men in Rome.
would go down in history as an insatiable nymphomaniac.
stated that Messalina once held a contest with
to see who could service the most
sexual partners in a night. Sorry to say, there is no
record of who won, but no doubt there was
a sore loser.
After ten years of marriage, Messalina
to kill Claudius. Indeed, in the grand
tradition of Livia, an entire
new generation of murderous women swirled around the
palace. However, in
Messalina's case, she lacked Livia's cunning to escape detection.
Claudius was out of town in
Messalina went ahead and married her lover Silius. As
if adultery wasn't enough, why not try bigamy?
Apparently Silius convinced Messalina that
senile old Claudius was
doomed. Therefore murdering him
and marrying Silius was her only hope
rank and protect her children. It was
bad advice. The result was the execution of Silius
Sad to say, Claudius
was pretty much blind-sided. He
did not have the heart to execute Messalina.
So when Claudius wasn't looking, one of his officers did it
Now good old Claudius, 58, was a bachelor again. Claudius was intent
on staying single so he
made the Praetorian guards promise to kill him if he ever married
again. And then he went ahead and married again anyway.
Did the Praetorians kill him as requested? No, but
all worked out because his new wife
took care of it for them.
Agrippina the Younger was the most
interesting woman in Rome since Empress Livia. However,
she had not yet had her chance to shine. That was
about to change. Noting that gullible old Claudius was
available, this dangerous, ambitious woman decided to pursue
Before we begin the individual story of
Agrippina (#22), it would behoove us to take one last look at her
family. We assume the Greeks had the market
cornered when it came to family tragedies.
Oedipus was a good example. This was the guy who killed his father and married his mother,
then blinded himself when he learned the truth. And let us not forget Agamemnon, King of
Argos, the center of a very convoluted Greek tragedy.
First Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis. For his
offense, Agamemnon was commanded to sacrifice his daughter
Iphigenia in order to allow his ships to sail to Troy.
Considering his brother Menelaus was the husband of Helen of
Troy, Agamemnon didn't want to miss the Trojan War, so he
dutifully sacrificed his daughter. Tough times call
for tough choices. Agamemnon returned home from the Trojan War to an adulterous
wife intent on murdering him for the earlier sacrifice of
poor Iphigenia... an understandable sentiment. Many
mothers would have felt similarly. Following Agamemnon's death,
his children Electra and Orestes united to avenge the death
of their father by killing their mother Clytemnestra.
And then there was the guilt phase and so on and so on.
Good stuff, yes? Well, guess what. When it comes
to tragedy, the story of Agrippina's family is so much worse
it is unbelievable.
BC-19 AD) Father
Elder (14 BC-33 AD) Mother
Gaius (7-33 AD)
Younger (15-59 AD) Daughter
(18-42 AD) Daughter
Germanicus and Agrippina Sr represented the finest
in Roman ideals. Germanicus first rose to fame as the triumphant hero of the German
wars. From there, he became known as a caring father,
a decent man, and - best of all - a politician who put the
State above his own career... very unusual for those days. Germanicus was the
Prince of the Kingdom. As
greatly favored by his great uncle
Augustus. Augustus hoped that
Germanicus would succeed Tiberius
Agrippina was equally
She and her uncle Augustus had a close,
warm relationship. Augustus
was so proud of her for raising such a remarkable family.
Augustus was also proud for the example she set.
As a member of the imperial family, Agrippina was expected
to display frugality, chastity and domesticity.
These were the traditional virtues for a noble Roman
woman and Agrippina
was all of these things.
As a wife, Agrippina was totally devoted
to her husband. Agrippina was a loyal, affectionate
supported her husband every way she could.
The Roman historian Tacitus states
that Agrippina had an impressive record as wife and mother.
Agrippina had every right to be proud of her large family.
Germanicus had nine children in all,
three of whom died young.
As a mother, Agrippina acquired a well-deserved reputation
for successful childbearing. That said, Agrippina did
break with tradition in one way. Agrippina's habit
of tagging along with Germanicus on his different military
campaigns across Europe was unusual. In those days, a
conventional Roman wife was expected to stay home.
Agrippina wasn't going to let a bunch of men tell her how to
raise her children. Agrippina wanted to be at her
husband's side at all times. Consequently her children
were born in all sorts of places. Two were born in
Rome, one in Anzio, three in Cologne, Germany, and one on
the island of Lesbos. Due to her
independence, Agrippina earned herself a reputation as a
heroic woman. She was widely admired by all.
Together Germanicus and
Agrippina became the Golden Couple of Rome.
But it all fell apart thanks to Livia's decision to poison Germanicus
in 19 AD. Any remaining spark left in the family
was later extinguished by Tiberius.
Thanks to the evil of Livia and Tiberius, the darkest shadow would
fall over Rome.
Upon their father's death, the
two older boys grew up to be fine young men.
But the younger four were something else.
When their father was assassinated, Lucius
and Gaius were teenagers. Unfortunately, the
rest of the children were very young. Caligula
Agrippina the Younger (#22)
was 4. Drusilla
(#23) was 3. Julia Livilla (#24) was 2.
These young children were fatherless... and
Following the death of
Germanicus, Agrippina suffered a breakdown.
The pain was just too great to bear.
Agrippina wasn't cursing at the Gods for justice or
screaming to the citizens that Tiberius should
confess, she spent hours on end morbidly staring at
the ashes of her dead husband.
While the poor woman's grief
was understandable, her obsessive preoccupation
would have a terrible consequence. She lost
interest in raising the children. So who do you suppose raised her
children? Livia. That fact alone
should raise the hair on the back of anyone's neck.
stares at the ashes of her husband Germanicus
Given that all four children had
serious problems in later life, one can assume Livia
contributed to the problems of the younger four children.
However, since nothing is written about how Livia
influenced the children, we have to guess.
Livia was 70 years old at the time, but she still retained
her capacity for cruelty. Livia was a very disturbed woman,
deeply hardened by the many crimes she had committed.
Who can imagine why she chose to murder Germanicus in the
first place? Yes, he was an outside threat to
her son's throne, but the risk was small. Why murder the finest man in Rome?
The point is that the two older boys
raised by Agrippina turned out just fine while the younger
four turned out crooked, twisted and evil. Either Livia
did something to make the
children grow up damaged or her neglect allowed Caligula to
run free and poison the bunch with his madness.
Whatever the truth, deprived of both parents and stuck with
a wacko for a grandmother, all four children turned into weird,
sex-crazed sociopaths during their formative years.
Is it possible for a child to be born
evil? In Caligula's case, it certainly seems that way.
His story reads like Damian from the Omen. According to the historians,
Caligula suffered from epilepsy from childhood on.
This condition violently affected his mental state. At
times he became totally irrational. He suffered from delusions of grandeur
and considered himself divine. Caligula also suffered from
a chronic inability to sleep. He managed only few hours of
sleep a night and often suffered from horrendous
nightmares. Often he would wander through the palace waiting
for daylight. It seems likely that this
condition led to his habit of bed-hopping with his little sisters.
One point the history books seem to
overlook is that Caligula would die childless. Think
about it. In addition to his three sisters and four
wives, at one time or another Caligula had sex with virtually any woman who could
walk and probably his beloved horse as well. How was
it possible that a man who arguably had more sexual partners
than anyone who ever walked the planet remain childless?
Perhaps Caligula was sterile, yet another indication of his
physical problems. Or perhaps he had a
sexually-transmitted disease that caused him to be
unfertile. If so, perhaps that same disease could
explain his mental deterioration.
Whatever the explanation, Caligula was
definitely off his rocker right from the start. Due to the dangerous combination of mental illness and
poor supervision, one can imagine Caligula did great
psychological harm to his sisters. Caligula was 7
when the first reports began to surface of his strange habit
of hopping into the beds of his various sisters. They
would have been around 4, 3, and 2 when this started.
Perhaps they assumed being groped by their older brother in the
dark of the night was normal behavior. Whatever the
explanation, all three girls
grew up having sex
with their brother Caligula.
So how did the girls turn out? We know about Drusilla. Born
four years after Caligula, she was her brother's favorite.
This was the poor woman who had her unborn baby carved out
of her belly during Caligula's psychotic episode in AD 38.
Julia Livilla was often referred to as
'Lesbia' because she was born on the Greek island of
Lesbos. Before one jumps to conclusions, it was
actually another woman - Sappho of Lesbos - who was
ultimately responsible for coining the term 'lesbian'.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Julia Livilla grew up
having sex with her sisters as well as Caligula, so to some extent the term
fits her as well.
Later in life, Agrippina and Julia
Livilla enjoyed a wild life at the court of Caligula.
In addition to servicing their brother's incestuous whims,
the two sisters allowed themselves to be prostituted by
Caligula to his catamites (an archaic term for male lovers).
The strange thing is that their mother,
Agrippina the Elder, was considered
a woman of the highest morality. How does one account
for the huge disparity between this incredibly decent woman and
her nest of twisted, nasty little vipers?? It boggles the
mind. The neglect caused by her bereavement had to be
the reason for the disparity. All four children grew
up damaged because Agrippina was out of her mind.
Nothing else makes any sense. This was sad enough, but
it got worse... her agony cost the lives of her two older
boys as well.
As we know, Agrippina
went nuts after her husband Germanicus
was poisoned. Although Piso,
governor of Syria, was stuck with the blame, the heartbroken
Agrippina continued to publicly
accuse Tiberius for the murder of her husband.
This was a very bad
knew the danger of shooting their mouth off, but apparently
this royal woman assumed she could speak freely. Or
perhaps she didn't care any more. That makes sense.
In fact, her behavior was so totally self-destructive that
it speaks to her loss of acuity. Forever in mourning
for the man she lost, Agrippina was a broken woman.
Either she was too lost in her grief to know what she was
doing or more likely she didn't care to live any longer, so
she committed 'Death by Emperor'. Sad to say,
after six years of
pointing the finger at Tiberius,
her constant need to stir up trouble led to a horrible, yet
predictable fate. One day they came for her.
30, Agrippina, age 44, and her sons Lucius,
25, and Drusus, 24, were arrested on the orders of
Tiberius. Agrippina was banished to the
desolate island of Pandataria. Ironically, this was the same island
where her headstrong mother Julia
(#8) had once been banished
as well. Now the equally headstrong
daughter was doomed to
share her mother's sad fate. Making matters worse,
mouth cost her two sons their lives as well.
Considered potential heirs to the throne, these strapping young men were too dangerous for Tiberius to tolerate.
Therefore mother and her two sons
were all doomed to die a miserable death. In retrospect, it starts
to make more sense why Julius Caesar had hidden Octavian
from sight back at the start of our story. Political
murder was all too frequent back in Ancient Rome.
At the time of their mother's disappearance, Drusilla, 14, and Julia
Livilla, 12, remained behind under the spell of their strange brother
Caligula. However, Agrippina Jr, had left
the home. She was 15 at the time and married.
No one could tell her what to do, including her husband.
Following the Purge, she
acted like she could get away with murder... which is
exactly what Agrippina did when she grew a little older.
Who can say what led to the younger
corruption? Perhaps the incest, perhaps the murderous,
paranoid household she grew up in. Whatever the
reason, daughter Agrippina
was not even remotely like her decent, heroic
Preferring to model herself in the
diabolical tradition of Livia
and Messalina, Agrippina
the Younger drifted steadily towards the
Agrippina Jr turned 13
in AD 28, Tiberius forced her to marry Domitius.
Her new husband was said to be very wealthy,
but also possessed a despicable and dishonest character.
They had one child, a boy named Tiberius Claudius,
better known as 'Nero'. When asked
about the baby,
a rather gloomy Domitius is said
to have exclaimed, "I don't think any child produced
by me and Agrippina could possibly be good for the
state of Rome."
No truer words have ever been spoken.
It turns out Domitius had a
reason to be so negative about the birth of his
child... Agrippina had deserted him.
little Nero (#26) was born. At
this time, Caligula,
Agrippina's only surviving brother, became the
being pregnant with Nero,
Agrippina wasted no time
ditching her nasty old
husband. She was in for a surprise. After moving back
to the Imperial Palace, she discovered Caligula had turned the palace into an orgy pit.
Ah, good, just like old times!
baby was born, Agrippina resumed having sex with
her brother again and only Jupiter knows who else. The sex
games in the palace were so rampant that people
could barely keep track of who they slept with
the previous night or how many.
One year into Caligula's reign,
something snapped in his head. When Caligula awoke
from his coma, he had his psychotic episode and accidentally
stabbed Drusilla to death.
and Julia Livilla watched in horror as
His condition grew worse
after that. The two women agreed that Caligula
was a threat not just to them, but to everyone in Rome.
year after Drusilla's death,
Julia and her
cousin Lepidus began a plot known as 'The
They say the family that sleeps together keeps together, but
maybe not. In Caligula's case, those fond memories of incest had
Caligula had to go.
So who was Lepidus? Lepidus had
married Drusilla in AD 33. No doubt during the
friendly palace orgies,
Lepidus became a close friend to Caligula in ways that are
better left unsaid.
So close in fact that in AD 37 Lepidus was publicly marked
by Caligula as his heir. However, Lepidus didn't
particularly appreciate learning that Caligula had carved
his unborn son out of Drusilla's belly. He consoled
himself in the arms of Drusilla's two sisters Julia Livilla
and Agrippina. One night in bed together, they hatched
a plan. Noting
Caligula's descent into madness,
two sisters decided to take out their brother and install
Lepidus on the throne.
Unfortunately for humanity, the
three assassins failed before
they even raised their knife.
Sometime in 39, Caligula was handed
letters written by his sisters Agrippina the Younger and Julia
Livilla that detailed an adulterous affair with Lepidus and
a plot against the emperor. Lepidus was put to death, but
spared the lives of the sisters. Julia Livilla and
sent into exile on an island.
Two years passed.
Caligula was assassinated in AD 41, Claudius took the
throne. One of his first acts was
to bring Agrippina and Julia
Livilla back from exile. The
two sisters were reinstated in court
and regained their estates.
As we recall, this was the moment when Julia Livilla was
said to have begun flirting with Claudius... or at least
that is what Messalina claimed.
Considering Claudius was a sickly man of 50 years and Julia
Livilla was an attractive woman of 25, one imagines any warmth shown was
Messalina didn't see it that way.
Livilla appeared to be a rival for
her husband’s affection. And perhaps
Messalina was correct. After all,
Lepidus was dead, so maybe Julia was indeed
plotting something. This time
Messalina didn't bother with exile.
than send her back
to some lonely island on a trumped up charge of adultery, she had
the young woman
killed instead. Don't
mess with Messalina.
Julia's sister Agrippina
got the message. Seeing
her sister’s fate, Agrippina
was on guard lest she go the same way.
So Agrippina reunited with her son Nero,
now 4, and laid low.
When the coast was clear,
on the prowl for a new man. During her exile, her husband Domitius
had died, so who would she chase first?
Ah, why not a married man??
shameless advances at Galba, a powerful
man who would one day become emperor.
struck out. Just a girl's luck to pick
the last honorable man left in Rome. After the rebuff,
Agrippina back off? Of course not. Despite
Galba's clear devotion to his wife, Agrippina tried again.
slapped Agrippina hard in the face
in a public setting. Sending Agrippina reeling, the
woman shouted at her to knock it off. As witnesses to the
public rebuke, a group of nearby
laughed heartily and
began clapping in approval.
Oh, well, even full-figured hussies strike out occasionally.
Agrippina backed off and turned her sights
elsewhere. To her surprise, Claudius intervened.
He asked Agrippina to marry
Passienus Crispus, a consul, for political
reasons. Agrippina agreed. After all, it is
always smart to grant Emperors a favor. This move had
the added benefit of keeping Agrippina under the radar safe
from Messalina's vindictive streak. However, Agrippina
soon tired of the man. There are strong rumors that
suggest Agrippina poisoned her second husband Crispus in AD
47. Ah, the poor lass, widowed for the second time.
Fortunately, she received the man's estate as a consolation
prize. Agrippina was now extremely wealthy.
One year later a very delightful situation
crossed her path... Agrippina discovered Messalina was messing around.
Perhaps Agrippina could take advantage.
At the time, Agrippina hated Messalina
more than any other woman in Rome. To begin with,
Messalina had murdered her sister Julia Livilla.
But Messalina's worst mistake was coming for her son Nero
soon after. After Agrippina returned from
exile in January 41, Messalina realized that Agrippina’s son
Nero was a threat to the position of her own son Brittanicus.
So Messalina sent
assassins to strangle little Nero during his nap. When the
men approached his couch, they saw what appeared to be a
snake near his pillow and fled in terror. The apparent
snake was actually the
outer layer of snake skin
the boy had found in the garden.
After this close call,
Agrippina never took her eye off the boy again.
Agrippina knew as long as Messalina was alive, her son would
never be safe.
Therefore Agrippina's lust for revenge
was off the charts. Agrippina wanted to knock Messalina off her
high horse. Indeed, the legendary Whore of Rome was
riding high and mighty. Using her body to conquer,
Messalina displayed amazing control over Rome's politicians.
Messalina was quite the businesswoman. She sold building
contracts, citizenship rights to foreign nobles and high office to Romans.
And sometimes she sold herself. Be it through
blackmail or the exchange of her sensuous curves in return
Messalina was making herself the richest woman in Rome.
In certain ways, this was a
repeat of the situation where an aging Tiberius once handed the
government to Sejanus. Now Claudius had done something
similar. While Claudius focused on foreign affairs
which interested him,
Messalina was entrusted with handling much of the day-to-day
governing in Rome. When blackmail or sex didn't work,
Messalina resorted to force. Among
her victims were Seneca (exiled), Claudius’ niece
Julia Livilla; consul Marcus Vinicius; consul Gaius Asinius Pollio II, the elder Poppaea
Sabina, and consul Decimus Valerius Asiaticus. Legend
has it that 35 senators and 300 others were executed during
Claudius’s reign, most at Messalina's instigation.
During these executions, Claudius was either
clueless or simply preferred to take a blind eye.
After all, Claudius benefitted greatly from the demise of
his political enemies. Why not sit back and let his ruthless wife
clean house? However, we all know there is great
danger in yielding too much power.
You know what the Romans say... 'Beware
the Empress who offers to run the Empire. She will
eventually claim it for herself...'
Sejanus had once made the mistake of
reaching too far. He had attempted to marry a
forbidden woman. Now in an eerie parallel, Messalina
made the identical mistake... she attempted to marry a forbidden
man. Messalina fell hard for an attractive Roman
senator by the name of Caius Silius. Considered
the most handsome man in Rome, Silius was married to the
sister of Caligula’s first wife. Messalina could have cared less
if he was married. Reckless and out of control,
Messalina did little to hide her affair with
Caius Silius. Everyone in Rome knew about it except
for that gullible old fool Claudius who was off visiting
newly conquered territories in Brittania.
In AD 48 Silius and Messalina decided
to get married. First Messalina ordered Silius to
divorce his wife. But what about Claudius? Hey,
why bother with divorce? After we get married, we will just murder him! Some
say Silius persuaded Messalina, some say it was the other
way around. However, the accounts all agree that
Claudius was politically weak, constantly ill, and had few friends
because he refused to socialize.
Who would stick up for him in case of a fight?
Messalina concluded a few bribes and maybe a couple
winks to the Praetorian Guards would be sufficient to get
them to look the other way.
So the dynamic duo
decided to marry first, then murder Claudius when he came
home. Afterwards Messalina would make Silius the new emperor
and everyone would live happily ever after. Keep in
mind that this was bigamy, but after all the
stories we have covered, nothing seems outrageous anymore.
Marriage didn't seem to mean much in ancient Rome, not when
poison worked faster than a Las Vegas divorce.
The new power couple waited until
Claudius was away on an official visit to the port of Ostia. Once Claudius was out
of sight, Messalina threw a huge public wedding with a huge
banquet and a crowd to celebrate. Talk about nerve!
Messalina didn't know it, but her luck had run out.
This stunt crossed the line. Messalina could just as
easily stood before the crowd with a megaphone and shouted,
"Hey, guess what, everybody... not only am I committing
bigamy, I'm committing treason!"
Pallus, a servant loyal to Claudius, as well as
Narcissus, the chief assistant to Claudius, were both disgusted.
They made their way to Agrippina and informed her what was
going on. Agrippina smiled. Maybe it was time
trip. Agrippina and the two men hastily made their way to Ostia on
Italy's coast 16 miles to the west of Rome. Now they warned
Claudius of the plot to kill him.
However, one of Messalina's spies
spotted their arrival and reported the bad news back to
Messalina. When Messalina realized Claudius was
on to her, she panicked and tried to save herself.
Messalina was the silver-tongued devil.
Messalina had once persuaded Claudius to let her execute
cute Julia Livilla for the crime of batting her eyelashes.
This guy was so stupid he would believe any lie that was
plausible. Surely she could talk her way out of this jam as well. She traveled to Ostia with their children to convince Claudius it
was all just a silly misunderstanding. Only one problem. Narcissus prevented Messalina
from even seeing the Emperor. So much for Messalina's
well-rehearsed sweet talk. There would be no pleading.
The die was cast.
Poor Claudius. There goes his
trophy wife, unfaithful wretch that she was.
Claudius did not deserve this treachery, but he knew he had
encouraged it by
tolerating her debauchery for so long.
Now Claudius had no choice. Messalina had embarrassed
him before all of
Rome and made him look like a foolish old man. To let
her get away with this was the worst PR mistake he could
make. His authority depended on giving her the fate she
deserved. However, Claudius didn't really want to
murder Messalina. Why not just send her into exile?
his assistant Narcissus thought differently. When in
doubt, better to act and ask forgiveness than to waste time
getting permission. When Claudius wasn't looking, he told a
guard to chop Messalina's pretty little head off and throw
her body to the sharks.
Agrippina had her revenge, but now she
wanted more. Messalina's blood had not even dried before
Agrippina began chasing Claudius.
For her role in exposing the plot, Agrippina had gained the
ear of Claudius. However, Claudius had no desire to
remarry. For that matter, why
would Claudius marry
sister of all people?
He had more than his fill of
aggressive women. To top it off, Agrippina was 25
years younger. Marriage was a bad idea.
Agrippina was unwilling to take 'no'
for an answer.
To the surprise of Claudius, Agrippina offered several sound political reasons
to marry her. She began by explaining how weak his
political position was.
attempted coup d'état by Silius and Messalina made Claudius
vulnerable. The close call would
tempt others to try. In fact, some within his own family
could be plotting at this very minute.
Claudius understood her point. Currently there was much animosity
within the Royal community.
Given all the cousins, aunts, uncles,
in-laws, etc, there were two clans with members numbering in
the dozens. These people all had varying degrees
of blood ties or legal ties to one side or the other. Claudius was a member of the
Claudian family but not the Julian family.
So far the Emperor rotation had
been Julian (Augustus), Claudian
(Tiberius), Julian (Caligula), and now
Claudian again (Claudius).
The Julian side demanded it was their turn. A stronger
leader would have told them all to go jump off the Leap of
Tiberius, but Claudius was not the type to try the tough guy
had his good points, but confrontation was not one of them. His
compounded by the fact that his obvious
son by Messalina, was still a
small boy. Furthermore Brittanicus
was a Claudian.
At this point, the Julian side and the Claudian side were about as friendly as the Hatfields and McCoys.
The death of Germanicus followed by the nasty feud between Tiberius
and Agrippina Sr had created a lot of bad blood in every
sense of the word. Following the assassination of Caligula,
the Julians were disgusted to have Claudius, a man with
pure Claudian blood, on the throne. They wanted some
Julian blood promoted to the next throne, not another
is what the furor was about.
However, finding a Julian heir
easier said than done.
Livia, a Claudian, had secretly
thinned out the Julian line considerably. In fact,
that may have been her intention all along.
Right now the gene pool was down to only one
person: Nero, Agrippina's son.
Nero was the only candidate with any Julian
blood still standing.
that if Claudius married her, she would get the Julians off
his back and he could rule in peace. Even better, once
they were married, she would respect Claudius' desire to
retain Brittanicus as his legal heir. Sure enough, the
stupid old fool believed her. Claudius eventually
and made Agrippina his fourth wife.
Agrippina smiled. Brittanicus
the heir? Messalina's son become Emperor instead of
Nero? Over her dead body.
Little Nero was now on his path to the emperor's throne.
Eighteen: Nero and Agrippina
The marriage between Claudius and
was not at all popular with the
Roman citizens. Not only was this woman young enough to be
the Emperor's daughter, she was also his niece. The whole affair
smacked of cradle robbing and incest.
However, this was Agrippina we are
talking about. Was
Agrippina fazed by the cries of scandal? Of course not.
Agrippina was no stranger to incest.
After all, she grew up with it. In fact, incest
made her feel right at home.
Agrippina was very pleased about the
marriage. Not only was she the Empress, in the grand tradition of Livia,
Agrippina intended to knock off all rivals and pave the way
for her son Nero. She dreamed of the day Nero
would become emperor.
However, Agrippina would never be
content as long as her son had a rival.
was 12 and Brittanicus was 8.
That boy might be a real problem someday.
Agrippina knew Claudius
didn't care much for his own son
by Messalina. And why should he? For one
thing, the odds that the boy was legitimate were remote at
best. Furthermore, following the
coup attempt, Claudius wasn't feeling too warmly towards the boy's
deceased mother these days.
On the other hand, Claudius would know it
was her doing if Brittanicus died. It was too risky,
so Agrippina decided to let the boy live, at
least for a while.
However, letting Claudius live was
another story. Now
that Nero was heir apparent, Agrippina had no further reason to keep Claudius
alive. Unfortunately, Claudius
proved to be a lot smarter than she had realized. Claudius had seen it all during Livia's reign of terror.
Consequently he was clever enough to
post guards to
watch the guards. Then he
added a new feature. From now on, there would be a
second food taster to taste the
food of the first food taster while Claudius watched
Claudius lived on.
Agrippina was disappointed, but no problem.
Agrippina was in no
hurry. As the new Empress of Rome,
Agrippina went to work setting up her son Nero to be the
At this point
Agrippina began to resemble Messalina.
This was no surprise. With exception of Messalina's
nymphomania, in every other way the two women were
Both women were ruthless, ambitious, violent, and
domineering. It seemed like people died around them
all the time. Sure enough, in
the grand tradition of Grandmother Livia,
Agrippina consolidated her grip on power
by eliminating one rival after another.
Agrippina's alleged victims:
01. Passienus Crispus, Agrippina's 2nd husband,
was poisoned (suetonius)
02. Lollia Paulina, as she was a rival for Claudius' hand in
marriage as proposed by the freedman Callistus. (Tacitus &
03. Lucius Silanus was betrothed to Octavia, Claudius'
daughter by a marriage
prior to Agrippina. He
suicide on their wedding day, but we can
guess what really happened.
04. Sosibius, Britannicus' tutor, was
executed for plotting against
05. Calpurnia was banished (Tacitus),
then executed (Dio) because Claudius
had commented on her beauty.
06. Statilius Taurus was forced to
commit suicide because Agrippina
wanted his gardens. Oddly enough,
Messalina had once done the same thing, killing a man to
obtain his garden. (Tacitus)
07. Claudius, Agrippina's husband,
was poisoned (Tac., Sen., Juv., Suet., Dio.)
08. Domitia Lepida, mother of Messalina, executed. (Tacitus)
09. Marcus Junius Silanus, potential rival to Nero, poisoned.
(Pliny, Tac. Dio)
10. Cadius Rufus was executed on the charge of extortion.
Oddly enough, despite the constant mayhem, Rome never missed a beat.
The only people who were in any real danger were the
politicians and the wealthy people. The ordinary
citizens of Rome were in no danger. In fact, most of
the time they were amused. The carnage at the top was
a delightful source of gossip. Who killed who this
time? Who's having the latest affair? If the people of Rome had their way, the
politicians would have been the sacrificial victims at the Roman
Games in a flash. Nothing like the threat of human sacrifice to keep
a politician honest, yes?? Maybe we should try it in
If anyone doubts that Roman politics
was a blood sport, our next story is an eye-opener.
In AD 54, Claudius began to have
second thoughts about Agrippina and Nero. It was
becoming increasingly obvious they were both brutal thugs.
Was Nero really what Rome needed for its next emperor?
There was a decency in Brittanicus that Claudius found very
appealing. Claudius admonished his son to grow up
quickly, implying that everything would be righted when he
assumed the toga of manhood.
In late AD 54, Britannicus was within 6 months of reaching
manhood by Roman tradition. Not only that, he had
matured early. Claudius mentioned to the lad that he
might divorce Agrippina and dismiss Nero now that
Brittanicus was of age. Claudius raised eyebrows when
he commended both Brittanicus and Nero to the Senate as
equals in his Senate address. That was a mistake
because it signaled the two boys were on equal footing.
Back in the days of Livia, that would have put a target on
one of their backs. Well, something similar was
about to happen.
The moment Nero's
supporters were on alert, almost immediately, Claudius
died. The historians credit Agrippina.
Taking a page from Grandma Livia's
playbook, Agrippina hired an assassin named Locusta to
poison Claudius. The ancient sources say Locusta poisoned
Claudius on October 13, AD 54, by creating a
During the furor, Locusta substituted a plate of deadly
mushrooms at a banquet for a plate next
to Claudius that had
already been tasted.
The hand is faster than the eye.
Anyone who has studied a coup
d'état knows it greatly helps to know what is going on in
advance. Nero was pushed onto the throne before anyone
could object. As Claudius lay choking on his deathbed,
Britannicus and his two sisters Octavia and Antonia were
locked in their rooms to ensure that no counter claim could
be made to Nero's succession. It is very powerful to
get there first. Considering Brittanicus had little
political influence while Agrippina was the most powerful
woman in Rome, Brittanicus was easily pushed to the
died at age
63. What a strange life
Now it was Nero's turn.
The death of Claudius
was followed by one of the strangest stories in
Roman History. A power struggle
developed. Agrippina, 39, wanted to run the Empire.
17, had other ideas. He wanted to run the Empire.
married to Claudius, Agrippina had been
the Empress of Rome for
5 years. She liked the power and wanted it to continue.
She decided Nero was much too young to know
what he was doing. It was far better
to let her to call the
Agrippina held the upper hand, so for
year of Nero's reign,
his mother controlled the
However, Agrippina's control of Nero began to slip when her
son began an affair with the freedwoman Claudia Acte,
a mistress who turned out to have the brains
to match her body. Claudia Acte
put ideas in Nero's
impressionable young mind and Mom wasn't happy about it.
strongly disapproved, but her
that of a jealous lover
than a concerned mother.
Agrippina was so upset about Claudia Acte
that she responded like a spurned lover.
Now the eyebrows were raised.
Previously, sensual acts of
public kissing and
When Agrippina discovered what was going on, she violently scolded her
son in public which of course embarrassed
the young man. The problem was
that Agrippina continued to act like a wife who has been
cheated on. Mom's behavior was so inappropriate
that new rumors of incest arose. There
was no one
ready to publicly assert Agrippina's
desire had ever bridged the ultimate taboo, but
the suspicions lingered.
In early AD 55, the freedman Pallas, one of Agrippina's
favorites, was dismissed by Nero from
his job as secretary of the treasury. Pallas was the
man responsible for initiating Agrippina's rise to power
back in the days of Messalina. Since then Pallas had become
Agrippina's closest ally in government. Agrippina
was so offended by this affront to her authority that she repented her actions to bring Nero to the throne.
Agrippina did something totally bizarre...
she began to support Britannicus in her
attempt to unseat Nero.
was pretty shocking to see Agrippina turn on her
was true. After all those people Agrippina killed to
make Nero the emperor, suddenly Agrippina was trying to make her
stepson the new emperor.
Or was it all just a bluff?
Agrippina demanded Nero reverse course.
threatened to throw in her lot with Britannicus, the true
heir who would soon come of age. Nero said he didn't
believe her, so Agrippina raised the stakes. She
threatened to take Brittanicus to the Praetorian camp where
he would be safe from harm.
There she would admit to murdering Claudius and produce
Claudius' last will declaring Britannicus as emperor.
Nero turned white. He did not take this threat lightly.
His mother was so out of control she might follow through on
Nero was far
too ruthless to tolerate this nonsense. Agrippina was lucky Nero
didn't exile her or chop her head off on the spot.
Instead it was
Brittanicus who paid the price.
Nero swiftly moved against
Britannicus. He employed Locusta, the same poisoner who had
been hired to murder his stepfather Claudius. When the first
attempt failed, Nero was afraid his mother would sneak
Brittanicus off to the Praetorians at any moment. So
Nero decided to try something even riskier and poison him
right in front of everyone. Britannicus was invited
to a dinner party
attended by his sister Claudia Octavia, his mother Agrippina, and
several other notables.
Locusta avoided being given away by a
food taster by putting her poison inside the ice. Ice was a
new treat in Rome. Ice was brought down from the
mountains in huge chunks and served as a delicacy. Due to everyone's
unfamiliarity with this new treat, no one suspected that a
small hole could be drilled inside an ice cube, poison added, and then
have the hole sealed and refrozen. To the casual observer, cubed ice
seemed safe enough. It was a state of the art trick.
When Britannicus was served wine, the
wine was tasted and passed inspection. When
Britannicus asked for ice, the taster licked the cubes which
passed inspection. And then the ice melted in the warm
wine... the substance was instantly fatal. Britannicus
fell to the floor foaming at the mouth. One can assume
a very strange look passed from son to mother as the poor
boy writhed on the floor. It was surely very
satisfying for Nero to murder his rival right in front of
died one day before his 14th birthday. Sad to say, his
death of Brittanicus was soon
forgotten. Not only did Nero's affair continue, so did
the power struggle between Agrippina and
Nero. The newest pawn in the
struggle was Claudia Octavia, daughter of Claudius and wife
to Nero. Nero could
have cared less about this political marriage.
Nero had just murdered
Octavia's brother Brittanicus
without consequence. Now he
was considering doing the same thing to Octavia.
Octavia was miserable because she knew her life was in
danger and because she was being
totally ignored by
Fortunately for Octavia, Nero's
mistress told Nero not to tempt fate. Killing a boy
few people cared about was one thing, but Octavia was a
different story. Octavia was like a Princess to the
citizens. Nero listened carefully and decided to back
off. So how weird does that sound... a mistress
speaking up to save the life of her rival??
Claudia Acte was
interesting woman. She had come
to the household as a slave from Asia Minor.
the expansion of the Roman Empire into Lycia
(southern Turkey), Claudia Acte was taken into custody and
brought to Rome.
There she was put on display for Claudius
along with many other slave candidates.
Due to her
dark Syrian good looks, she was soon ushered by Claudius into the
harem. Over time, Claudia Acte was given duties and became part of the
Nero met the
slavewoman when he was 17.
Claudia Acte was 27.
Nothing like a sexy slave girl to teach a horny future
emperor how to please a woman and how to please himself. Their passionate
relationship would last four years. When he became
emperor, Nero made his
Despite her freedom, she stuck around willingly. Claudia Acte
had a mind of her own. She took the opportunity to exert considerable
influence on Nero's decisions.
One day Nero complimented his mistress on
keen political insights despite her lowly status.
Claudia Acte had a surprising answer. She said, "I was not raised to be a slave
girl, Nero. When my people were conquered, I kept my
wits about me. How else could I have made it this far?"
Acte's main contribution to history was to create the wedge
that turned Agrippina and her son into bitter rivals. The
ensuing conflicts over this woman led Nero to
defy his mother and seek absolute
control of the Empire. When Agrippina refused to stop nagging
her son, Nero's
patience ran thin and he ordered her to stop.
Astonished at her son's disobedience, Agrippina
was not the kind of woman to back off.
The arguing continued non-stop.
relentlessly attempted to exercise power over her son, Claudia Acte advised Nero to
resist this power. Indeed, Claudia
Agrippina's sway over her son.
Agrippina became terrified of losing her power.
Her increasing efforts to separate Nero
from Claudia Acte only served to increase his fondness for
Frustrated and feeling helpless,
Agrippina began to lose her self-control. Her
desperation led to
One night early in Nero's reign,
completely flipped out.
Agrippina came into
Nero's bedchamber and said they needed to have a long talk
and clear the air. She brought several bottles of
wine. Agrippina proceeded to her
son drunk on wine... out of control drunk. She began
to touch him. This had happened before, but there had
always been a stopping point. Not this time. Passionate kisses and sensuous caresses
ensued. Nero was 18 at the time. Anyone who
understands the overwhelming libido of a teenage boy
realizes there is something known as the point of no return,
a point when all reason ceases to function. This point was not far off.
At age 40, Agrippina was a very desirable,
voluptuous woman. Furthermore, Agrippina had no qualms
about incest. She had been raised on it.
Agrippina knew that by seducing her son, she could control
him through guilt and blackmail for the rest of his life.
Hearing the moans of pleasure, Seneca,
Nero's teacher and advisor, peeked into the bedchamber and
turned white with horror.
Even here in decadent Rome, sex between a mother and a son was
strongly forbidden. This was one
of mankind's oldest and strongest taboos. There had long
been rumors of mother-son incest, but no actual evidence to
date. Seeing Nero undress his mother, that was about
to change. Thinking fast, Seneca ran to Claudia Acte's
room to ask her to help avert disaster. Claudia Acte
immediately stepped in. Over Agrippina's angry
protests, Seneca and Claudia Acte pulled Nero off
of his mother. Then Claudia Acte dragged Nero to
another room. Agrippina tried to follow, but
Seneca blocked her way.
Claudia Acte told Nero to think about
the consequences. His reputation was at stake.
Then she said something clever. She helped Agrippina and Nero save face by saying his
mother was just boasting about having intimacy, adding that 'your
mother was never really serious'. Then came the
"Nero, you need to think clearly
so this does not happen again.
The army is a very conservative group. These men will
never tolerate the sacrilege of incest. If you do
this, the public will turn against you. You will not
be able to show your face anywhere. There would be
considerable danger to your safety, my safety, and your
mother's safety too."
As his passion cooled and the effects
of the wine diminished, Nero began to see her point.
He asked Seneca to escort Agrippina from his chambers.
Then he asked Claudia Acte to stay.
Three years passed. The
58 AD appearance of Poppaea
Sabina into Nero's life marked
a serious turning point in his life. Nero was
said to have been thunderstruck by the woman's considerable
beauty. At this point,
Claudia Acte, a savvy woman, took her cue and decided to move on.
She displayed considerable grace in the way she parted... no
bitterness, no harsh words. She gave Nero a gentle
kiss and wished him luck. And then she was gone.
was a remarkable woman in many ways.
Claudia Acte was one of the rare people in this tale
who wasn't exiled, decapitated, or starved to
death. She refused to make a fool of herself after Nero
found another woman.
She didn't try poison anyone, didn't try to ruin their
reputation, and didn't resort to blackmail.
the fact that she escaped Agrippina's penchant for executing
her enemies spoke volumes about her survival instincts. Claudia Acte displayed uncommon
wisdom and poise at all times.
There is a truly fascinating footnote to this story.
At Nero's funeral in AD 69, Claudia
Acte took it upon herself to give the man a proper Roman
funeral. Keep in mind that Nero died in complete
disgrace and no one wanted anything to do with his stinking
unclaimed body. Claudia Acte decided to step forward.
She paid for the funeral out of her own pocket. The
ceremony cost 200,000 sesterces, the equivalent... hold onto
your seats... of at least a million dollars. She
placed a coin under his tongue and a coin over each eye.
Then she had the body burned on a pyre. Claudia Acte
deposited his remains in the tomb of the Domitii Ahenobarbi,
the family of Nero's biological father, in the Pincian
The fact that Claudia Acte alone
deigned to honor this cruel man after his death is
testimony to her devotion. In stark contrast to all
the self-serving monsters in this sordid story, Claudia Acte was willing
to show gratitude. Nero was a man who had genuinely loved her and
had granted her freedom when he was under no obligation to
do so. In addition, Nero had given
her many gifts. Claudia Acte was more decent than all
of Rome's nobility when she gave her former lover this
One might ask how a former slave woman
managed to raise one million dollars. Interesting
that Claudia Acte departed the imperial scene in possession of a
household staff and considerable property accumulated while
she was Nero's mistress. Claudia Acte's household and
estates in Velitrae, Puteoli and Sardinia attest to the fact
that she was wealthier than most of Rome's patricians.
The story of
Claudia Acte is reminiscent of an old joke about Zsa Zsa
Gabor and her acquisitive ways. "I
will go down in history as one of the world's
best housekeepers. Every time I meet a man, I end up
keeping his house."
Nineteen: Poppaea Sabina
Sabina was a legendary temptress. She was
rumored to be the
most beautiful woman in the Roman Empire.
Although Poppaea came from a
family with at best a
minimal social ranking,
she aspired to become Empress.
As should be obvious, the
ancient Romans were very promiscuous. Not
Poppaea Unlike many women of her day,
Poppaea was quite selective in her choice of lovers.
She knew her value increased by limiting
her charms to the few.
about her reputation.
She refused to blindly gratify her own
passions, but rather think
carefully which man would be best suited to help her
climb the social ladder. To have her at his
side would guarantee any man would be the envy of
countless other men. She rarely appeared in public
and, whenever she did so,
she kept her face
partially concealed by a veil.
Poppaea was something of a tease who knew full well
how to increase her value.
"I'll give you a peek
and show you my breast, but buy me a ring and I'll
show you the rest..."
was originally married to Rufius Crispinus,
prefect of the praetorian
troops under Claudius. He
was a stepping stone.
became the mistress of Otho,
another stepping stone. Otho
asked her to marry him, so Poppaea discarded Rufius
and accepted the offer. Poppaea knew Otho and
Nero were close friends. She meant to use Otho to attract the
notice of the emperor. Soon
after the wedding, Otho introduced his beautiful
wife to the Emperor upon Poppaea's insistence.
more than happy to show off his new wife.
extolled her charms to Nero
with such rapture that the
emperor became curious
to see the lovely wife of his friend.
Nero was stunned. He wanted her on the
spot, but Poppaea played
the coquette. She
instinctively knew that resistance was called for.
When Nero saw she would not yield to
his desire was on flame.
Otho was soon dispatched
to govern the province of Lusitania
(Portugal). To his
intense sorrow, Poppaea said she had decided to
remain behind in Rome.
was now the mistress of Nero, but
this did not satisfy her ambition. She
made it clear she was anxious to be his
wife. However, as long as
around, this was not going to happen. Or should we say
began to repeat what Claudia Acte had once said. She continually reminded Nero that divorcing Octavia would be a serious political
Poppaea made Nero's life miserable.
"Perhaps it is time I visit my husband Otho in Lusitania.
He writes to say he misses me."
Agrippina made Nero's life miserable.
"You have no business discarding Claudia Octavia. This
Poppaea bitch will get you killed. You need to listen
to me. You are
married to the well-known daughter of Claudius,
the former Emperor.
Octavia is a
woman with an outstanding reputation. The people of
Rome will not forgive you if you choose your unpopular
mistress over your beloved wife."
Agrippina had barely been able to
tolerate Claudia Acte. However, this Poppaea woman was so
threatening that Agrippina was going over the edge.
Clearly Poppaea was 'The One', but Agrippina would
not give in. She protested the appearance of Poppaea
vigorously, reminding her son at every turn that the woman
was sure to ruin him.
This prompted Poppaea to strongly
suggest to Nero that his mother would never shut up unless
Nero took matters into his own hands.
There comes a time in every man's life
when he needs to make a choice. Should Nero side with his
mother, the woman who had dedicated her life to him and put
him on the throne? Or should he side with the exquisite Poppaea, the
woman they called the Roman Helen of Troy??
Nero's decision ultimately came down
to a well-known
Roman maxim... 'What have you done for me lately?'
decided to murder his mother. But how?? Nero
came up with a fairly ridiculous solution.
on what happened next is a bit murky, so
three versions will be offered. Although on one level
this is a tragic story, don't be surprised if you catch
Nero was the first emperor to grasp the
value of a positive public opinion.
Nero may have been
insane, but he wasn't crazy. There
was a craftiness about the man. How could he kill his
mother and escape detection?
Nero considered poisoning or stabbing
decided these methods were too
Someone might catch on.
So Nero pondered the problem. Gosh, why not try something more cunning?
What Nero needed was an accident. No, not pushing
someone over a balcony, but rather an 'Act of Jupiter' sort
of accident. Nero needed something so terrible that
the people of Rome would feel sympathy for him, not
settled on building a self-sinking boat.
Then he would give it to his mother as a grand gesture, a
token of his immeasurable love for her.
What a clever idea! Only one
problem... he could tell his mother was aware
something was fishy. Nevertheless,
to his surprise, Agrippina
not only liked her new boat, she couldn't
wait to take it out on the river Tiber. Nero smiled.
His plan was working to perfection.
best friend Acerronia Polla
and a steersman Crepereius
Gallus to accompany her on the river
cruise. She assumed no one
would try anything with her two friends along as witnesses.
seem to dawn on Agrippina there might be
So they took off down the river. Meanwhile,
two nefarious henchman were hidden inside a secret
compartment on the boat.
Once the boat was in the middle of the
Tiber, one of the henchman
pulled a latch. Agrippina was
nearly crushed by a collapsing ceiling.
Ducking as best she could, she was saved by the side
of her high-backed sofa
which broke the heavy ceiling's fall.
Agrippina was knocked to the floor trapped under a gigantic
lead plate that had been disguised as a ceiling.
the collapsing ceiling missed killing
Agrippina and Acerronia, it
Crepereius Gallus to death. He had stood
directly underneath the
giant lead plate which had been disguised
by a canopy.
The lead plate came to rest at a slant
against the couch. Acerronia and
Agrippina were able to crawl out from under the lead sheet. Screaming like banshees,
both ran to the side of the boat and jumped in the water.
Hearing the crash, the two men came out of hiding.
It was their job to sink the boat,
thereby destroying the evidence of the crime.
There was a secondary mechanism
designed to scuttle the ship, but
boat didn't sink, many curses abounded from the lead
henchman. There were three dead bodies under that lead
plate as evidence. Why wasn't this goddamn boat sinking?
His buddy reminded the lead assassin that this wasn't
something that could be tested in advance without the boat
sinking. Ah, good point.
Since the boat
failed to sink after the collapse of the heavy lead ceiling, the
two men tried to sink
the boat themselves. This didn't work very
well either. That is when they looked out on the river
and saw that Agrippina
was swimming away and so was her friend. This was
quite a shock. It had not crossed their minds that Agrippina
wasn't dead. They thought all three bodies were under
the giant lead plate.
So now the two men
small safety boat and gave chase.
down in the water, Agrippina's best friend Acerronia Polla
saw the boat coming and misunderstood who these
She did not realize they were the
conspirators who had come out of hiding.
began screaming her head
off. "Yoo hoo, boys, here we are!!
Come save us!"
was fooled as well. When the boat
caught up, both women were shocked when one of the men struck
them with an oar. Agrippina's
shoulder was badly hurt, but now she knew better.
started swimming away. However her friend Acceronia thought the men were confused. She stayed there
in the water arguing with the men about how stupid they
exclaimed that Agrippina was
a famous woman who was her best friend
and needed to be saved. For
her efforts, she
was attacked by the oarsmen.
was bludgeoned repeatedly. The
went to her death because she
had not quite figured out that these men were trying to
assassinate Agrippina. Oops. Bad move.
The distraction allowed Agrippina
to get away. A nearby fishing boat
had seen the unfolding drama and come closer. Agrippina
managed to swim to the
passing boat. Once on shore, she was met by crowds of admirers
who congratulated her.
the news of
Agrippina's survival reached Nero, he flipped out.
So much for finesse. He sent
three more assassins to her home.
broke the door down and found her hiding under the bed.
As she prepared to die, Agrippina's
final words sounded like something taken from
Shakespeare. Just when her assassin
raised his knife to
strike, Agrippina exclaimed, "Smite my womb first!!"
implication was that Agrippina wished her womb be
first because it had given birth to her abominable son.
version suggests Nero was annoyed at his mother for her
constant meddling. He tried three times to poison
Agrippina, but she took antidotes each time and
survived. Nero then tried to crush her with a mechanical
ceiling over her bed at her residence. After this failed,
he devised a collapsible boat, which would either have its
cabin fall in or become shipwrecked. Nero then ordered
the captain of a different boat to ram this boat while
Agrippina was aboard. Once Nero heard Agrippina survived
the wreck, he ordered her to be executed and framed it as a
version of the tale starts again with Poppaea as the motive
behind the murder. Nero designed a ship that would open at
the bottom while out at sea. Agrippina was put aboard.
the bottom of the ship opened up, she fell into the water.
Agrippina swam to shore so Nero sent an assassin to kill
her. After her death, Nero claimed Agrippina
had plotted to kill him and
committed suicide instead.
Whichever version is the correct one
doesn't really matter. They all agree that Agrippina
ended up dead.
later, this incident is still by
far the most famous incident of Matricide in history.
The ironic thing
was that Nero wanted to do something subtle to avoid any
suspicion about his mother's death. And this was the
best plan he could come up with??
Nero would have his
mother's death on his conscience for the
rest of his life. He felt so guilty
that sometimes he would have nightmares about killing Agrippina. He
once saw his mother's ghost and summoned Persian magicians to
scare her away.
There is an interesting footnote.
she died, Agrippina had visited astrologers to ask about her
son's future. The astrologers had accurately predicted that
her son would become emperor and then he
would turn around and kill her.
replied, "Then let Nero kill me, provided he becomes emperor!!"
noble thing to say! Can anyone
imagine a more touching illustration of a mother's love?
Twenty: Rome Burns
Now that Agrippina was gone, what should
Nero do about Octavia?
At the mere mention of Octavia's name, Nero would
invariably flinch. To the exasperation of Poppaea, Nero
was strangely reluctant to rid himself of a wife he openly
hated. Upon further inquiry,
Poppaea realized Nero's hesitation was rooted in his fear of public opinion.
Nero's fear marked an important shift in
Roman society. The citizens were becoming increasingly
fed up with this succession of mediocre rulers. There
were two factors eating at Nero's confidence. Nero was
well aware of the rumors that every single Emperor had been
murdered... Augustus had been poisoned, Tiberius had been
smothered, Caligula had been stabbed to death and Claudius
had been poisoned. Emperors were not safe in their own
palace. Nor were they safe from mob rule. As the
population of Rome grew, the size of the guard had not kept
pace. Right now the ratio of citizens to Praetorian
Guards was woefully weak. Recently there was a
report from a frontier outpost where a mob had gathered to
successfully demand the death of an unpopular administrator.
Nero understood the same thing could happen to him.
Claudius had been an Emperor who made
moves according to public opinion and now Agrippina's
warnings made Nero sense a similar constraint. Gosh, tyrants
were starting to have to answer to the people. What
was the world coming to?
Meanwhile Poppaea would not shut up.
"Marry me or I'm out of here!"
Finally Nero gave in to Poppaea's
demands. In AD 62 he divorced Octavia and married Poppaea two
weeks later. Then he promptly exiled Octavia.
Suddenly Nero's worst nightmare came true.
unpopular that the citizens of Rome protested loudly.
parading through the streets with statues of Octavia decked
with flowers and calling for her return. Nero
was badly frightened
by the mob.
He nearly agreed to remarry Octavia, but
then he took one look at Poppaea's
expression and changed his mind.
death warrant instead.
days later, Octavia was bound and her veins were opened in a
traditional Roman suicide ritual. Then
was scaled to death in an exceedingly hot vapor bath.
For good measure, Nero had Octavia’s head cut off
and sent to Poppaea. What a
Her death brought much sorrow to Rome.
The citizens were furious.
Nero would be fearful of assassination ever forth. In
addition, for the remainder of his life, Nero
would have nightmares about his mother and Octavia.
Unlike Caligula, Nero seemed to know right from wrong, but
he kept choosing wrong.
Now that Claudia Octavia was out of the
way, when their daughter was born, Nero gave
his new wife the highest honor by titling her 'Augusta'.
Poppaea was the Empress just as she had always dreamed.
Not bad for a
country girl from Pompeii who made
it to the top without any birthright or connections. Sad
to say, her triumph did
not last long.
It probably comes as no surprise that
does not have a Happily Ever After. In fact, none of
these tales have a happy ending, do they?
They say that money can't buy happiness.
That might be true. Based on the epic problems of the Julio-Claudian family, it certainly
doesn't seem like their wealth created much contentment. For example, Poppaea
was the richest woman in the world.
Having achieved her ambition, Poppaea set about
spending the entire Roman treasury. What's the point of
being Empress if you can flaunt it?
grew insecure. She began to worry about losing
her looks and having another woman take her place.
In the meantime, Nero
was beginning his mid-life
spiral into madness, a
family trait to be sure. Poppaea and Nero fought bitterly over
many things, including the increasing
amount of time he spent at the chariot
races away from her. Was it really
chariots Nero was watching or was it other women??
Let's face it, Life is cruel.
When the most beautiful woman in the Empire has to worry
about other women, can any woman ever hope to find security?
No wonder women hate men so much.
Things came to a head in 65 AD.
One night a
pregnant Poppaea began to scream at Nero
after another long day at the races. A knock-down,
drag-out fight occurred. Nero lost
his temper and kicked Poppaea
in the stomach. Her stomach
ruptured, causing both Poppaea and the baby to die.
In the grips of uncontrollable rage,
Nero had Poppaea's son
by a previous marriage put to death
too. He did it
out of spite.
Then the remorse began to filter in.
Nero was in shock with the
realization he had
killed both his mother, his first wife
and now his
second wife. The guilt was unbearable.
Something snapped in his brain. Nero was starting to go
mad just like Caligula.
missed Poppaea terribly. This
led to a truly bizarre story. Nero
found a male slave named Sporus who resembled Poppaea.
Sporus was this effeminate little boy who just happened to
have a pretty face. Nero had the poor kid castrated. Then he
the slave up
as Poppaea and had him put on
makeup. Nero conducted some sort of wedding ritual and
began to call him "Sabina" after his deceased wife.
Nero took the kid everywhere and pretended that his
had begun his descent into madness.
go on to achieve eternal notoriety as the
cruelest tyrant in history. The Great Fire of Rome
destroyed much of Rome in AD
Whether Nero set the fire is debatable.
There were five
versions of the story presented by Rome's top
by a desire to destroy the city, Nero secretly sent
out men pretending to be drunk to set fire to the
city. Nero watched from his palace on the Palatine
Hill singing and playing the lyre.
by an insane whim, Nero quite openly sent out men to
set fire to the city. Nero watched from the Tower of
Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill singing and playing
out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and
played his lyre from a private stage.
was an accident. Nero was in Antium.
was said to have been caused by the already
unpopular Christians. This story was spread in order
to blame someone else, because rumor had it that
Nero started it.
What is not debatable is that Nero committed
barbaric atrocities to distract the populace.
Once he discovered how popular it was to
the helpless Christians to
he would revisit Scapegoat Road time and time again.
It is well known
Nero considered much of Rome ugly and squalid.
It was also the case that
Nero had openly coveted nearby land to create room
for his new palace. In addition,
looters and arsonists were reported to have spread
the flames by throwing torches. So whether
Nero did it or not, the fire seems to have been
deliberately set. In the chaos, justly or
unjustly, the finger was pointed at Nero.
that Nero himself started the fire in order to
rebuild the city. These
rumors traveled fast.
The grumbling reached a crescendo. An angry
mob formed which posed a major threat to Nero's
unpopular reign. Nero decided to distract the masses by
blaming the equally unpopular Christians for starting the
To appease the masses, Nero quickly scheduled new games in the
promised to punish the terrible Christians
for their crimes.
Sad to say, Nero's ploy worked like a
Amidst cheering crowds,
Nero began by crucifying some of the Christians.
were clothed in the hides of beasts,
tied to a stake and torn to
death by dogs.
his spectacular finish, wild animals were set loose
in arena. The starving lions and tigers wasted
no time feasting on the helpless victims whose
screams of agony could be heard by all.
No mercy was ever shown.
After the Great Fire, things
would only get worse for the Christians.
The suffering had just begun.
A dramatic painting titled
A Christian Dirce by Henryk Siemiradzki
captured Nero's cruelty so perfectly.
depicted an event where Nero re-enacted a Greek myth in
which Dirce, Queen of Thebes, was put to death by being
tied to the horns of a bull. Nero decreed that during
the games in the amphitheater, he would reenact the story. A
beautiful young Christian girl was chosen to suffer the same
fate. As horsemen chased the enraged bull carrying the
terrified woman around the arena, the cornered bull
eventually smashed against the rock wall, killing both.
At the end of the ruthless spectacle, Nero came down to
examine the body of the lifeless girl and the felled beast.
This story was one of countless atrocities
attributed to Nero.
Just to scratch the surface,
Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul. He had the Apostle
Peter crucified. Nero raped the Vestal Virgin Rubria.
There are many other examples, but you get the picture.
One particularly horrible
thing Nero did was to have large groups of Christians dipped in
oil prior to a garden party held at his new Domus Aurea.
When the night set in, Nero placed them on stakes in his
garden and set them on fire as human torches.
The burning humans served both as spectacle as
well as the source of light.
While these helpless victims
screamed in agony, Nero casually mingled with guests
or stood and watched. He was amused at how
could light the
seemed to be no end to the ways this sadistic
monster could find to make these people suffer. Some
spectators could not bear to watch this hideous
torture. They begged Nero to show mercy and
spare a few. No such
luck. Nero was not known for his mercy.
Nero's final years brought
Rome to the brink of civil war.
AD 65 a high-level
conspiracy to assassinate the emperor emerged.
Nero ordered the deaths of a prefect and
several senators and officers.
All this did was delay the insurrection. In the final years of Nero’s rule, the Roman
Empire was under great financial
strain due in part to
those expensive shows that Nero staged. Grain
supplies dwindled and became insufficient to feed
the growing population. People who are
hungry become dangerous.
Nero's fiscal policies led Rome to the
brink of chaos. Reconstruction costs in Rome,
revolts in Britain and Judea, and
conflicts with Parthia forced Nero
to devalue the imperial currency.
His act of
lowering the silver
content of the denarius
was the last straw.
In March 68, the governor of Gaul (France)
rebelled against Nero's ruinous tax policies.
Nero sent a force
easily put down the rebellion, but the
problems in France encouraged
Hispania, to revolt as well. Nero
mismanaged the political climate and soon the entire Senate
withdrew their support. They declared Nero a public enemy...
shoot on sight. For the
Senate to declare the Emperor an enemy of the state was
unprecedented. The search for Nero began. Over the next few days, Nero flitted from one spot
another in sheer panic. Eventually he gave up and asked a
companion to stab him to death. No
doubt many would have volunteered to help.
go down in history as the most depraved and cruel of
the Roman emperors (although he had some
serious competition). With his death, the Julio-Claudian
dynasty came to its end.
The cupboard was empty; there were no more male heirs.
rejoiced, but not for long. Nero's death led to
The Year of the Four
Emperors, one of the
most bizarre chapters in Roman
Within a one year
span, the Roman Empire would have four different emperors.
of Nero in AD 68 was followed
by civil war.
Galba took over as the
sixth Roman Emperor, but he didn't last long.
Rome from Spain, Galba set about killing people. Like his
predecessor, Galba had a fear of conspirators. He executed
many senators without trial. The
men of the Praetorian Guards were not
happy about Galba because he had made a
firm promise to pay them, then stiffed
them. It seems Galba had made a terrible discovery
Nero had emptied the treasury. Then
the legions of Germania refused to swear allegiance to Galba. On the following day, the legions
acclaimed Vitellius, their governor, as emperor.
Galba suddenly didn't have a friend.
Rome received the news that the Rhine legions
had revolted, our old friend Otho sensed an opportunity.
Remember Otho, Poppaea's husband?
Otho bribed the
Praetorian Guard, already unhappy with the new emperor,
to come over to his side. When Galba heard about the
potential coup d'état brewing, he
panicked and went to the streets in an attempt to stabilize
the situation. This proved a mistake because he could
attract no supporters. Shortly afterwards, the Praetorian
Guard killed Galba in the Forum. Shades of Julius Caesar. Et tu, Otho??
future Emperors... if
you have to choose someone to stiff, don't pick the guards.
recognized as the new emperor by the Senate that same day. News
of the transition was greeted with relief, especially when Otho's
initial efforts to restore peace and stability seemed to
work. Then came the bad news... Vitellius had declared
himself Imperator in Germania and had dispatched half his
army to march on Italy.
commanded the finest legions of the empire.
The Germans were the most dangerous enemy, so Rome's best
was stationed on the Rhine to keep them in check. Otho's men
met them in battle, but never
had a chance. They were
in the Battle of Bedriacum. Rather than flee and attempt a
counter-attack, Otho decided to commit suicide instead. He
had been emperor for a little more than three months.
The sad thing is that Otho had been doing a pretty good job.
On the news
of Otho's suicide, Vitellius was recognized as
the third emperor
since Nero by
the Senate. Vitellius
assumed he had
the throne tightly secured. Let's
engaged in a series of lavish feasts, banquets,
parades, and celebratory games in the
That is when
Vitellius learned he had no money to pay for everything.
The imperial treasury was close to
bankruptcy. Nero had nearly exhausted all public funds
and Galba had done the rest.
Vitellius had rung up a massive debt
without bothering to listen to fiscal advice. Now the money-lenders demanded
repayment from the new Emperor. Vitellius showed his violent nature by ordering
the torture and execution of those who dared to make such
demands. Gee, what a novel way to deal
with bill collectors!
his financial affairs in a state of calamity, Vitellius
came up with an amazing outside-the-box idea how to solve
his money problem. He took the strange initiative of killing citizens
who had named him as their heir.
He also murdered any
co-heirs. Why on earth would
Vitellius do this? It seems these murders allowed
Vitellius to receive their inheritance!
had a clever way of dealing with
them to the palace with promises of
sharing power only to
Vitellius was so bad he made people start to miss Nero...
and that's saying something.
this madness reached the Middle East provinces of
Judaea. Vespasian had been given a special command in
Judaea by Nero in AD 67 with the task of putting down the Great
Jewish Revolt. Vespasian mustered a strong force drawn from
the Judaean and Syrian legions and sent Primus, his top
general, to march on Rome and restore
told Titus, his son, to
remain in Judaea to deal with the Jewish rebellion,
Vespasian himself travelled to
Alexandria where he was acclaimed Emperor on July 1.
By gaining control of the vital grain supplies from Egypt,
he intended to bring food to Rome to relieve the growing
famine caused by the civil war.
received some more good news. The troops of the Danube had
been moving on Rome to support Otho,
but could not get there in time to save him. Now they
declared their support for Vespasian instead. This set
up the Battle of the Titans... the best of armies of Rome
took up sides against each other. It was Germania
versus Judaea and Danubia.
Primus invaded Italy. By October,
Vitellius was cornered. The
combined forces led by Primus
won a tough victory over Vitellius' army at the Second
Battle of Bedriacum. But the battle
fled to Rome.
Now the chaos of the Civil War bled out onto the streets of
There was much street fighting. Vitellius' men
retreated and sought refuge in the important Temple of
Jupiter which towered above Rome on the Capitoline Hill.
When the fighting resumed in the Temple, the building caught
fire and burned to the ground. With nowhere else to hide,
the men loyal to Vitellius made their last stand.
Vespasian's men mowed them down.
the fighting, Vitellius escaped.
Vitellius decided on
one last visit to the Palace to
pick up his valuables
before he fled town. Anticipating
that was where he had gone, Vitellius was caught by
Vespasian's men and killed. The
battle was over. The forces loyal to Vespasian had
acknowledged Vespasian as the ninth Roman Emperor on the
following day. It was December 21, 69 AD. By coincidence,
this was the same date of the year that had begun with Galba
on the throne. The Year of the Four Emperors was over.
would prove to be one of Rome's ten best
Emperors. He was the man who finally put Rome back on the
Twenty-One: Conclusion to the Roman Game
Julio-Claudian Dynasty refers to the series of
the first five Roman Emperors. These men ruled the Roman
Empire for 75 years until Nero, the last of the line,
committed suicide. The dynasty is so named from the
family names of its first two emperors: Gaius
Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius
Nero (Tiberius). The ruling line was founded upon an
alliance between these two families.
5 Emperors of the Dynasty:
1. Augustus ( 27 BC– AD 14)
2. Tiberius (14– 37)
3. Caligula (37– 41)
4. Claudius (41– 54)
5. Nero (54– 68)
Rick Archer's Note:
Beware the Ides of March!
I first became interested in Roman
History as a young man due to my fascination with Julius
Caesar. Most people only know Caesar as a warrior and
Cleopatra's lover. Few people realize that Caesar
rewrote Roman law, redistributed land to the poor, extended
Latin rights throughout the Roman world, abolished the tax
system and put Rome's finances in order. Given such
talent, I was never able to grasp why the Roman senators
would murder this gifted man.
After visiting Italy's Isle of Capri in
2016, I was reminded of my childhood fascination with
Caesar. So I decided to take another look. This
time I 'got it'. Despite my admiration
for Julius Caesar, I came away convinced that he
was wrong to insist on unlimited power. If my tale has
demonstrated anything, it is the danger of putting too much
power in the hands of one man.
Today the danger is even greater.
In modern times, a nuclear weapon in the hands of the wrong
man could literally end the human race. The principal
reason behind the separation of powers is to make it difficult for
any individual to abuse their authority.
That said, if ever America could use a
dictator with the caliber of Julius Caesar, 2016 would be
the right time. Our country's leadership is hopelessly
deadlocked. Congress gets very little done. The
few laws that do get passed such as Obamacare are badly
flawed (some say because so many compromises were necessary
to get it passed).
Let's face it, a democracy takes too
long to make decisions. Gridlock is a constant
problem. Half the time politicians spend more time
running for office than they do running their office.
They spend much of their time raising money to get
re-elected. The temptation to buy and sell political
power creates corruption. Since there is no
distinction between the votes cast by the literate and the
illiterate, often the flashier candidate gets the nod.
Since the best talker is not always the best administrator,
the elected official may not always be the best person for
Contrasted against this messy system
we call Democracy is monarchy. One-person rule has so
many advantages. If we could just put Julius Caesar in
charge, Caesar would get
things done quickly. There would be no danger that
decision-making would get bogged down in endless committee
debates and filibusters.
Outmoded laws could be quickly discarded. Tax reform
could be handled in the blink of an eye. The corrupt Wall Street
executives could be punished and the watchdogs strengthened.
Income equality could be restored. New laws on
immigration could be passed. And maybe Caesar could
appoint our ninth Supreme Court justice. On second
thought, we wouldn't even need the Supreme Court because
Caesar would be the Supreme Court.
However, what happens after
Julius Caesar is gone? Then what? Things are
great when the right person is in charge, but woe unto those
who get stuck with the wrong person. The danger of a
totalitarian system is that once someone puts their boot on
the back of your neck, good luck getting rid of it.
Ask the people of Hungary... they suffered under the
Ottomans, they suffered under the Hapsburgs, they suffered
under the Nazis, and they suffered under the Communists.
It took the people of Hungary 500 years to gain complete freedom!!!
Are you willing to risk giving someone
like Caesar dictatorial powers knowing you might get stuck
with a Caligula or a Nero if something backfired? Given that tyrants are
nearly impossible to dislodge, my conclusion
is that our Founding Fathers got it right. The danger
of getting stuck with the wrong person far outweighs the
frustrating headaches of steering a path through too many
Now I would like to address the
question of accuracy. How much of my story is true?
As much as I enjoyed researching this
story, I am sorry to admit my tale cannot be considered a
scholarly work. Please don't go telling someone that 'Rick
Archer said so and so'. I based much of my tale on
Wikipedia even though I am well aware from personal
experience that Wikipedia information can be manipulated.
That said, on matters of history, Wikipedia seems reliable
enough. Just to be on the safe side, I checked out the
more salacious stories from other websites as well... and
you can do the same.
History is like detective work.
Solving a mystery is deeply dependent on getting good clues.
However, no matter how good the clues are, a detective will
eventually discover there are pieces of information missing.
Roman history is based on the writing of a small group of
men who lived
2,000 years ago. Some of the
most quoted historians wrote about events that took place
before they were even born.
For example, one of the best known historians was Suetonius.
He wrote an important book titled The Lives of the
Twelve Caesars. This work was a collective
biography of the Roman Empire's first leaders: Julius
Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba,
Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. It was
a very comprehensive publication.
One day I realized that Wikipedia was
story after another based on the reports of Suetonius.
of curiosity, I decided to read about Suetonius. I
learned that Suetonius was the personal secretary of Emperor
Hadrian (Hadrian's Wall). Hadrian was the 14th
Emperor of Rome. What was Suetonius doing serving the
14th Emperor of Rome while writing about the first emperor?
So I looked at his birthdate.
Good grief. Suetonius lived from
AD 69 to AD 140. In other words, Nero was already dead
before Suetonius was even born. Then I discovered
Suetonius was 50 before he even began writing
The Twelve Caesars in 121 AD.
Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44
BC. 44 BC to 121 AD is a gap of 165 years!!
Therefore I have to assume that there was no one still
living with any direct experience to the men he wrote about.
So where did Suetonius get his information? Who did he
talk to? How many of Suetonius'
conclusions were based on rumors and gossip? Who is to say
whether Suetonius exaggerated a
story or made up a
story of his own?
How reliable a historian was Suetonius?
Then I looked up Tacitus, the
historian whose name I saw mentioned more frequently than
anyone else. He lived from 56 AD to 120 AD. How
could Tacitus write the most extensive history of Tiberius
when the man died 20 years before Tacitus was even born?
Again I have to assume that Tacitus, like Suetonius, had to
rely on the writings of people he never even met.
In other words, most of the
information passed down to us from Ancient Rome was written
by men who had no direct experience of the events. We
know that when it comes to information, people lie,
exaggerate, and misinterpret. Now add 2,000 years.
I have to wonder how reliable my sources are.
Many of the stories
I have told are so
bizarre that they are
difficult to believe. In fact, many historians openly question the
accuracy of certain descriptions.
Therefore I have to believe that some of my tales are wrong, but I have no idea
where the mistakes are. Well,
actually I did print one story that raised my eyebrow... 'assassins
were sent to murder little Nero, but were scared off by a
snake that turned out to be a snakeskin'. That one
was tough to swallow. Okay, so snakes are scary.
I have to believe anyone bold enough to murder a child is
brave enough to get a spear and kill
the snake, then kill the boy.
more or less said the same thing
as me. He openly admitted
that parts of
I Claudius were based on his own
intuition of what might have happened in
certain places where the facts were murky.
Did 7-year old Caligula really help
poison his own father Germanicus? Graves thought so,
but there is no evidence of it. Did Livia really
deliberately let her own son Drusus die of gangrene because
her son wanted to restore Rome to being a Republic?
Graves thought so, but there is
The list of far-fetched stories is
fairly endless. Was it really possible that Livia murdered
her own husband and five different heirs to the throne?
Did Tiberius really conduct neverending sexual perversions
at his villa? Did Caligula really cut his sister
Drusilla's belly open in a psychotic delusion? Did
Messalina really conduct a sex competition with a
prostitute? Did Nero really have sex with his own
I say take everything with a grain of
salt. That is what I did and so should you. That said, I consider The
Roman Game of Thrones to be a relatively accurate
overview of one of the most fascinating eras in ancient
So the underlying question is how much
credence can we give to these stories? Are they as
ridiculous as the Greek myths or could such implausible
tales have really occurred? This
reminds me of the famous Bible questions... Did
Jesus really walk on water? Did Methuselah really live
900 years? Did Moses really part the Red Sea? I read most Bible stories with a healthy dose
of skepticism and I read the Roman tales with a similar
sense of skepticism.
That said, my conclusion is that many of the outlandish tales in
the story of Rome
might actually be possible. I believe the cruelty and
the torture took place. I believe the sexual excesses
took place. I believe the poisonings and the political
murders took place. I believe that Tiberius and Nero
were sane when they were young, but mysteriously went insane
later in life. I believe Caligula was sick at birth
and just kept getting worse.
If one accepts this, then the question
is WHY?? What could cause this?? I
came up with four possible explanations.
Sexually Transmitted Disease
Where did all this insanity come from? I find the stories of the men
who descended into madness at the end of their lives
I have to wonder if the
mental illness described in these stories could be the
result of fevers and disease. Is it
possible the insanity of Tiberius,
Caligula, and Nero as well as the bizarre sexual appetites
of women such as Julia and Messalina could be
explained by the advance of sexually transmitted diseases?
Kind in mind that
syphilis has been with us for a long
time. It was described by Hippocrates in Classical Greece.
'Mental illness' is considered a major side effect of untreated syphilis.
Another important factor to consider
is the effect of inbreeding. Studies have reported a
significant increase in the prevalence of mental disorders
relative to inbreeding.
At the very least, research has shown that disorders such
autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depression and
schizophrenia can be genetically passed on to offspring.
The inbreeding theory could explain why each generation
seemed to get worse.
A third possibility is lead poisoning.
Lead was the metal of choice in Ancient Rome. Soft,
flexible, and easily found, lead was used to make Roman
pipes, aqueducts, coins, eating utensils and wine jugs.
The Romans ate food laced with lead and drank wine laced
with lead. Lead was even used in face powders and
paints. According to one study, two thirds of the
Roman emperors, men like Caligula and Nero, showed symptoms
of lead poisoning. The analysis of bones from Roman
cemeteries uncovered lead deposits that measured three times
the World Health Organization’s standard for severe lead
Lead is bad news for the human body. Lead damages the
kidneys and heart, impairs the production of red blood
cells, and inhibits the growth of bone cells. Most
sinister of all, it is also a neurotoxin which disrupts
cognitive processing. Lead affects the regulation of brain
cell growth so severely that synapses often fail to form.
Lead poisoning can make people more violent and have trouble
with impulse control.
They say that exposure to lead can
cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility. The
Julio-Claudian royal family had long been plagued by infertility. The
lone exception had been Agrippina the Elder. And where
did she have most of her children? Outside of Rome
where the use of lead was kept to a minimum.
If it is true that lead poison
affected the brains and bodies of Roman emperors, then
suddenly a Caligula who declares his own divinity, appoints
his horse to the Senate, and orders his soldiers into the
ocean to fight a sea god might make a little more sense.
Maybe these epileptic seizures in Julius Caesar, Caligula,
and Nero begin to have an epidemiological explanation.
and Psychological Damage
The people most fit to rule were
all murdered. This left only the lunatic fringe to
cleared the way, the first Emperors of Rome had the
unbridled power to rule the world. Augustus had
visualized handing this awesome power to responsible human
beings. But his wife Livia had other thoughts.
Her systematic murder of Rome's finest potential leaders left the cupboard
all heard the phrase 'Survival of the Fittest'. Thanks
to Livia, the bizarre serial
killer at the
heart of the family, it was just the reverse.
Here the best people were all
murdered. Rome could have been led
by noble men such Marcellus, Drusus, Gaius, Lucius and
Germanicus. However they were all murdered.
Livia doomed Rome to be
terrorized by Tiberius, Sejanus, Caligula, Messalina,
Claudius, Agrippina and Nero. It took Rome over
half a century to undo the damage caused by Livia. In
the early days of Imperial Rome, these monsters could do
whatever they wanted and no one could stop them. It
was not until finally Vespasian stepped forward that Rome
finally got back on track in 69 AD.
Given that the Imperial Palace
operated as a House of Madness during the time of the five
the climate was
certainly present to allow aberrant behavior. The
murders, the exiles, the
poisonings, the badly broken homes, and the
incest could explain why the Julio-Claudians
turned into the most dysfunctional family in the
history of mankind.