Roman Game of Thrones
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The Roman Game of Thrones

Written by Rick Archer
October 2016


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 Robert Graves.

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 fool. 

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 effective Emperor.


Hail to the Seven Caesars! 


1 Julius Caesar -
2 Augustus -
3 Tiberius -
4 Sejanus -
5 Caligula -
6 Claudius -
7 Nero -
 The Man Who Ended the Roman Republic
 The Man Who Was First King
 The Man Who Did Not Want to be King
 The Man Who Would Be King
 The Man Who Should not Have been King
 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 insanity. 

And too much cruelty.  Endless 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 civilized.


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.  His 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 their 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 wide.

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 of Rome.

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 behind to 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. 

Following 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.  Beware the Ides of March. 


Chapter Two: Octavian and Mark Antony


Following 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.  Meanwhile 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 too late. 

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.

Octavian?  Who was Octavian?  Scarcely anyone in Rome had ever heard of him.  Antony barely even knew who Octavian was himself.

This moment marked the start of 17 year journey for Octavian on his way to become the supreme leader of Rome.  Considering Octavian was a long shot at best, this was the start of a very remarkable story. 

Octavian 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.  Caesar had done this 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 lifetime.  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.  Octavian 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 time.  However, since Caesar was unaware of his impending doom, he had been cut down shortly before the boy's initiation was about to begin. 

The assassination 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.  He had no money. Furthermore, Mark Antony was sure to object.  How would Octavian ever claim the prize?

Octavian had 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 Caesar's role.

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.  

The commander was impressed by this 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 chance?

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 (Iran) 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 warNext 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 dictator's assassins.

One can imagine this was a very interesting meeting.  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 wish 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 legitimacy.

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 Julius Caesar'.  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. 

Following the 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 unusual move forced the astonished Antony and Octavian to patch up their differences. 


About this time, Fulvia conveniently died, more than likely from a timely dose of poison.  To solidify 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 reaction was. 

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 mind.

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 Egypt. 

Antony 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.  

Over 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 stated 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 Greece.

Forming a blockade, Octavian forced a sea fight in the waters on the western shore of Greece.  Octavian 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.  He stabbed 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.  


The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

The term Julio-Claudian Dynasty refers to the series of the first five Roman Emperors. These men ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC to AD 68, when the last of the line, Nero, committed suicide.  The dynasty is so named from the family names of its first two emperors: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius Claudius Nero (Tiberius).  The ruling line was founded upon an alliance between these two families.

The 5 Emperors of the Dynasty:
  1. Augustus  ( 27 BC– AD 14)
  2. Tiberius     (14– 37)
  3. Caligula     (37– 41)
  4. Claudius    (41– 54)
  5. Nero           (54– 68)


Chapter Three: Augustus Caesar


The Roman Civil Wars had begun when 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 end. 

In all, Octavian had to eliminate over a dozen contenders to lay undisputed claim the throne of Rome.  This was quite an accomplishment.  The time had come to crown Rome's first emperor.

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 time, Augustus 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 Mediterranean. 


Augustus would 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 warfare.  

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.

Thanks to his largely benevolent rule, Augustus established a period of peace known as 'Pax Romana'  (Roman Peace) that would last from 27 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 years (63 BC-14 AD), 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 was 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 family values.   

However, Augustus made one very serious mistake.  Turning a blind eye to his cherished family values, Augustus stole another man's wife.  Little did he know his punishment would be a lifetime of neverending personal tragedy.  

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.

According to '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.


Chapter Four:


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. 

Born to the Claudian family in 58 BC, Livia's 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.  Drusus was born in 38 BC.

Livia was 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.  During her 52 year career as Empress of Rome, she would elevate political assassination to an art form.

Livia 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 the swamp.

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 three 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. 


Livia's 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 childless marriage.  Since Livia and Augustus had no children together, there was no consensus heir.   Augustus would have to appoint someone.  Who would become the ultimate heir to the throne? 

As Empress 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 Thrones'. 

The British 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 based his story on innuendo passed down by the Roman historian Tacitus.  Tacitus had portrayed Livia as a ruthless, scheming, thoroughly Machiavellian political mastermind.

'I 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.   After studying Livia's story from every angle possible, Graves concluded Tacitus was not exaggerating.  The Livia of 'I Claudius' came across as perhaps the most evil woman in history.  Livia's systematic murder and scheming would eventually eliminate every talented man in the Julio-Claudian family tree. 

Through her actions, Livia personally doomed Rome to endure the three worst Emperors in Roman History - Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. 


Chapter Five:
Julia and Marcellus


A young man named Marcellus was Livia's first victim. 

Augustus had one child of his own Her name was Julia.  She was the daughter of Scribonia, Octavian's wife previous to Livia.

Since Rome 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'?   Roman 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'.

Since Julia 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 and a caretaker to rule until his male heir turned 14.     

Tiberius was 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 named Marcellus (#9) Unlike Tiberius who was totally Claudian, Marcellus was half Julian and half Claudian.  Marcellus could become the caretaker in case Augustus died young.  Furthermore, by marrying his daughter Julia (#8) to 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 continue.  

Julia 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.

Immediately 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 stepson Tiberius. 

Augustus had 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 another successor. 


Chapter Six:


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 allowed Octavian to become the first Roman Emperor, adopting the name of Augustus.

Agrippa (#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.

Augustus and Agrippa had great respect for one another.  Augustus trusted Agrippa implicitly.  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.   

Unfortunately, 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 died young. 

Agrippa's 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.

Augustus was 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.


When 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!"   

While 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!" 

Julia took 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.  Impressive!

Agrippa died 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.

Meanwhile, 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 Augustus. 

Tiberius was a dark, brooding man who in many ways was reminiscent of 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 of power. Like Nixon, Tiberius was a man with no tolerance for criticism.  The more people disliked Tiberius, the meaner he got.

Drusus (#6) was Tiberius' best friend in the world.  Drusus 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 of Julia's 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. 

Drusus and Antonia had three children:  Livilla (#12), Claudius (#13), and Germanicus (#14).

A person would be challenged to find three more different children.  Germanicus 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 weakling 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 became the 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 all, Drusus was a gifted man, far superior to his moody brother as a leader.

Livia's preference for Tiberius led her to make a strange decision.  It is 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. 

Given a choice between backing her husband and older son or backing her youngest son, Livia sided with Tiberius For 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 DrususLivia didn't actually murder Drusus, but she did make sure her son would fail to recover from a dangerous injury. 

Drusus fell 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 goner.  

Off fighting 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.  

Tiberius 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. 


Chapter Eight:


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 Livia had 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. 

Agrippa was 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 kill them? 

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.  Consequently 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.  Princess 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.

When Agrippa 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 previous marriage to Agrippa. 

Livia reached the obvious conclusion.  TIBERIUS HAD TO MARRY JULIA AT ALL COST!!

On paper, 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. 

First of 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 step-sister?

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 Tiberius's 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, Tiberius was 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?  

Did his 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?  

"Yes, son," Livia replied, "that is exactly what I want you to do.  Do your duty."

Livia's 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. 

Tiberius 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? 

Tiberius rebelled.  He said he wouldn't do it.  Livia didn't care.  She simply convinced 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 possible."

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. 

The entire 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.  Julia 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 region.   

While 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.  Now losing Drusus was more than he could bear.  Lost in the grips of despair, Tiberius began drinking heavily.

Meanwhile, 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. 

When 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.

Julia could 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 age 14.  Then she was forced to wed her father's elderly friend Agrippa at 17 in a loveless diplomatic union.  She had done her duty and given the 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.

After 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.


Julia was 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.  However, that 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.   

Julia 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 Emperor.   

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 completely oblivious.  

Livia, on 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 slept with?

When the 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.  

Livia had 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 headstrong daughter.  In 2 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 hell. 

At first, 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! 

However, 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.

Livia was fit to be tied.  Given her husband's dark mood plus all 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 Palace


At this point, Tiberius had no chance of becoming emperor.   The two men despised each other.  Making 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.

What was 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. 

Augustus was in shock.  How was it possible for any man to have such bad luck?  Why did the Roman Gods view him with so much disfavor?   It 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 Caesar.  

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.

There were only two possible heirs left.  One was Postumus, 14, Agrippa's youngest son of three.  And of course Tiberius, 44 Due to all these deaths, Tiberius was actually the only man left standing who had the experience to run the Empire.  Augustus was 67.  This was no time to be picky. 

Although 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.  

Postumus (#18) 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 gone.

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 child brat.  No one could tell her what to do. 

Livilla 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.

Livilla 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 freedom.

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.  Guards came sprinting and witnessed Postumus as he stripped Livilla 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.

Rumors 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. 

Once Livia learned of the secret meeting, her sixth sense warned her that trouble was brewing.  There was a strange look in her husband's 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.

Tying up 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 Tiberius.

With the 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 humiliated.  

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

This situation 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. 


Germanicus 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. 

Together Germanicus 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 family. 

Agrippina 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.

In the five years 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 operate freely.

Amidst all this tension, disaster struck in 19 AD.  Germanicus 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 directly at 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.  Surprise surprise.  

Munatia Plancina was a rich woman married to Piso, governor of Syria.  Munatia Plancina was a close friend of LiviaThe 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. 

So Livia 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.   

However, 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 Caligula.  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 sister's bed.  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.  Caligula said he had nothing to fear because he was a god indeed

Martina had persuaded little Caligula of all people into delivering poisoned food to his own fatherThere was 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.

Tiberius: "They have always preferred Germanicus to me.  Why is that?"

Livia: "You just don't have a loveable nature."

Sejanus: "Well, 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."

Livia 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?"

"Son, 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.  Caligula 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 ground. 

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 respected the authority of the Roman Senate and ran the government smoothly.  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 not all Emperors were bad.  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 dictatorship.

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.   

Given man's natural 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. 

The problem 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. 

People in 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 couldAnyone 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 down.

If the 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 balances. 

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.


Chapter Twelve:
Escape to Capri


The funny 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.  

And was 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 had been.

All Tiberius 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 realized 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 threatening to 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 the Emperor.


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. 

Are you 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.


Chapter Thirteen:
The 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 Imperial Rule.

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 man.

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.


Chapter Fourteen:
The Caprineum Palace of Depravity


Unaware that 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. 

Tiberius 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 Palace of 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 out:

“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 depravity.”

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 honors.

Unfortunately, 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.  Tiberius loved molesting small boys.  He took naked young boys into his pool and raped them at will.

Roman 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 practices.

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 become.

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 to her.  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 feet 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. 

Given his 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. 

The island of Capri became known as ‘Caprineum’, a term loosely translated as 'The Land of Debauchery'. 

Tiberius was 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.


Chapter Fifteen:
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 ambition.

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. 

Sejanus rose 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.

This moment 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. 

Castor was the only child of Tiberius.  Castor's 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 consequences.  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 time.

Sejanus took note of Castor's important new position.   Sejanus 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.  

The dead body would have to be Castor.  Sejanus had no problem with that.  He despised Castor and his violent temper.  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.

Castor did 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 his way.

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.

"Why does Father invite this commoner nobody to assist in the government while the emperor's son is alive?"

Good question. 

Those words 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.

One might remember Livilla (#12).  It was her cry of rape that sent Postumus, Tiberius' final rival, into exile back in 9 AD In fact, it had been Sejanus himself who eventually put the man to death in 14 AD upon Tiberius' ascension to the throne.  As the recipient 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.

With Livilla 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 a thing. 

Tiberius had 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 the Empire.  

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 new heir.  Sejanus assumed that once he married Livilla, he would automatically be appointed successor to Tiberius.  Who else had his experience?

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 AD 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.  

Tiberius 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 show.

Alarmed by 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 by Agrippina, the 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.  Furthermore, Agrippina 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. 

These lies 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? 

Sejanus 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' absence. 

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.

Leaving Rome, Sejanus was 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 bathe together!

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, Sejanus 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 throughHowever, 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 Retirement 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 ask 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 thumb, he grew bolder.  In 30 AD, Sejanus pulled off a grand triumph.  At the suggestion of Tiberius, he had Agrippina and Lucius 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.  Tiberius suggested Sejanus order a guard to flog her.  On one occasion, 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.

When 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 committed suicide.  

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. 

However there was still one rival who had escaped the wrath of SejanusWho could that be

Caligula, 19, had managed to survive the Purge.  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 was lonely.  Even monsters want friends.  Tiberius needed 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.

Caligula 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. 

Now all 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 become emperor. 

Then 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. 

Antonia's 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.  Antonia was 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 Tiberius against the 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, Antonia 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 Livilla 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 towards Sejanus.

In 31 AD, Sejanus announced his betrothal to Antonia's daughter 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.

The final 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 about visitation? 

Apicata 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, Apicata believed 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.

Antonia nodded.  She believed everything the woman had told her made sense. 

After 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. 

Antonia decided her next step would be a secret trip to Capri to see Tiberius, her brother in law.  She said 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

For that 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 of Tiberius. 

Since no one dared touch Antonia or tell her to leave, one way or another Tiberius would eventually learn that the Domina Magna, the leading lady of Rome, was here in Capri to see him.  When that happened, the wrath of Tiberius guaranteed their heads would roll.  What 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.

At this point in time, Tiberius was a jaded, cynical, perverted old 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. 

Tiberius 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.

Sejanus was 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 let Livilla starve to death... alone.  A fitting punishment indeed.

Following 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 passed. 

Now it was Caligula's turn.


Chapter Sixteen:
Caligula and Claudius


After 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.

Amused by 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 later. 

With the 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...

Not long 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.

Only Claudius 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 Caligula's 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.  Caligula not only committed incest with his three sisters, he prostituted them to other men whenever the whim crossed his mind.  Killing people on any whim, 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.  Caligula had taken 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.

Livia 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 entrance.

Caligula 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 grave.

This second marriage was even shorter than the one to Junia Claudilla.  It lasted one day.  Apparently Caligula was disappointed with Orestilla's bedroom performance because he divorced her on the following day.  However, Caligula added a bizarre condition.  He told Orestilla 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.  She was 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 made sense.
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 pass in 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 entire party how well or badly the wife had performed in bed.  Sweet guy.

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 limitless. 

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 advisor 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.

Completely 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 insane.

The Zeus story is held in dispute by different historians.  Whether it is true or not makes little difference.  What is important is that Caligula was hopelessly insaneHis own Praetorian guards decided they had no choice but to intervene.  In 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, they 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 well.


However, they missed someone... one person 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 Emperor.   

Because 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.

Claudius 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.  Amazingly, Claudius became regarded as a good emperor.  Not bad for a man who spent his life pretending to be a stuttering fool. 


Chapter Seventeen:


Messalina 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.

After 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 to Claudius. 

When the beautiful Julia endeared herself to the Emperor, Messalina became jealous.  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.


Messalina brought 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 looking.  The 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 garden. 

Messalina (#25) 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.  She would go down in history as an insatiable nymphomaniac.  Tacitus stated that Messalina once held a contest with the prostitute Scylla 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 plotted 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.

While Claudius was out of town in AD 48, 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 to retain rank and protect her children.  It was bad advice.  The result was the execution of Silius and his entire circle. 

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 for him. 

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 it all worked out because his new wife took care of it for them. 


Chapter Eighteen:  Agrippina Jr


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 him. 

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. 

Germanicus (15 BC-19 AD)  Father Agrippina the Elder (14 BC-33 AD) Mother
Lucius (6-31 AD)  Son Gaius (7-33 AD)  Son Caligula (12-41 AD)  Son
Agrippina the Younger (15-59 AD)  Daughter Drusilla (16-38 AD) Daughter Julia Livilla (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 we recall, Germanicus was greatly favored by his great uncle Augustus.   Augustus hoped that Germanicus would succeed Tiberius some day.

Agrippina was equally celebrated.  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 companion who 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.  Agrippina and 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 was 7.  Agrippina the Younger (#22) was 4.  Drusilla (#23) was 3.  Julia Livilla (#24) was 2. 

These young children were fatherless... and motherless too.  Following the death of Germanicus, Agrippina suffered a breakdown.  The pain was just too great to bear. 

When 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. 

Agrippina 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 mistake. Ordinary people 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. 

In AD 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, Agrippina's big 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 Agrippina's eventual 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 mother.  Preferring to model herself in the diabolical tradition of Livia and Messalina, Agrippina the Younger drifted steadily towards the dark side. 


When 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.  Tiberius died in AD 37 six months before little Nero (#26) was born.  At this time, Caligula, Agrippina's only surviving brother, became the new emperor. 

Despite 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! 

Once the 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.  Agrippina 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.  So one year after Drusilla's death, Agrippina, Julia and her cousin Lepidus began a plot known as 'The Three Daggers'.  They say the family that sleeps together keeps together, but maybe not.  In Caligula's case, those fond memories of incest had clearly faded.  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, the 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 Caligula spared the lives of the sisters.  Julia Livilla and Agrippina were sent into exile on an island.

Two years passed.  After 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 simple gratitude.

Messalina didn't see it that way.  Julia 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.  Rather 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 lowWhen the coast was clear, Agrippina went 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??

Indeed, Agrippina made shameless advances at Galba, a powerful man who would one day become emperor.  However she struck out.  Just a girl's luck to pick the last honorable man left in Rome.  After the rebuff, did Agrippina back off?  Of course not.  Despite Galba's clear devotion to his wife, Agrippina tried again.  Fed up, Galba's mother-in-law 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 married women 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 for favors, 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 for a 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? 

However, 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 Crazy Caligula's 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.  The 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 act.  Claudius had his good points, but confrontation was not one of them.  His weakness was compounded by the fact that his obvious heir, Britannicus, his 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 Claudian.  That is what the furor was about. 

However, finding a Julian heir was 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.  Agrippina said 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 relented 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.


Chapter Eighteen: Nero and Agrippina


The marriage between Claudius and Agrippina 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.  Nero 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 daysOn 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 carefully.  Good move.  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 next emperor.  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 practically identical.  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:

47 AD:

01.  Passienus Crispus, Agrippina's 2nd husband, was poisoned (suetonius)

49 AD:

02.  Lollia Paulina, as she was a rival for Claudius' hand in marriage as proposed by the freedman Callistus. (Tacitus & Cassius Dio)

03.  Lucius Silanus was betrothed to Octavia, Claudius' daughter by a marriage prior to Agrippina. He supposedly committed suicide on their wedding day, but we can guess what really happened. 

04.  Sosibius, Britannicus' tutor, was executed for plotting against Nero.

05.  Calpurnia was banished (Tacitus), then executed (Dio) because Claudius had commented on her beauty.

53 AD:

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)

54 AD:

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 modern politics...

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 major distraction using confederates.  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 background.

Claudius died at age 63.  What a strange life he led. 


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 Nero, 17, had other ideas.  He wanted to run the Empire.

While 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 shots.

Agrippina held the upper hand, so for the first year of Nero's reign, his mother controlled the Empire.  

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.  In fact, Agrippina strongly disapproved, but her behavior more resembled that of a jealous lover than a concerned mother.  Indeed, 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 touching had been witnessed.  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

It was pretty shocking to see Agrippina turn on her own son, but it 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.  Otherwise she 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 her threat.  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 his mother. 

Brittanicus 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 NeroNero 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 her husband. 

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 an interesting woman.  She had come to the household as a slave from Asia Minor.  Following 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 royal harem.  Over time, Claudia Acte was given duties and became part of the household staff.

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 mistress a freewoman.  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 decisionsOne day Nero complimented his mistress on having such 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?"

Claudia 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. 

As Agrippina relentlessly attempted to exercise power over her son, Claudia Acte advised Nero to resist this power.  Indeed, Claudia Acte's influence greatly reduced 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 his mistress Frustrated and feeling helpless, Agrippina began to lose her self-control.  Her desperation led to a remarkable confrontation.

One night early in Nero's reign, Agrippina 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 clincher. 

"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.

Claudia Acte 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.  Just 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 Hills. 

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 parting gesture.

One might ask how a former slave woman managed to raise one million dollars.  Interesting question.  Estate records show that Claudia Acte departed the imperial scene in possession of a large 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."


Chapter Nineteen: Poppaea Sabina


Poppaea 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.  Poppaea was very careful 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..."

Poppaea was originally married to Rufius Crispinus, prefect of the praetorian troops under Claudius.  He was a stepping stone.  Afterwards, Poppaea 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.  Otho was more than happy to show off his new wife.  He 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 wishes, 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.


Poppaea 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 Octavia was around, this was not going to happen.  Or should we say 'Agrippina'?  Agrippina began to repeat what Claudia Acte had once said.  She continually reminded Nero that divorcing Octavia would be a serious political mistake. 

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?

Nero decided to murder his mother.  But how??  Nero came up with a fairly ridiculous solution.  The history 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 yourself smiling.

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 Agrippina, but decided these methods were too crude.  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 suspicion. 

Nero 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.

Agrippina invited 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.  It didn't seem to dawn on Agrippina there might be actual danger.

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.  Though the collapsing ceiling missed killing Agrippina and Acerronia, it crushed poor 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, they 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 it malfunctioned.  When the 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 lowered a small safety boat and gave chase. 

Meanwhile, down in the water, Agrippina's best friend Acerronia Polla saw the boat coming and misunderstood who these men were.  She did not realize they were the two conspirators who had come out of hiding.  So Acerronia began screaming her head off.   "Yoo hoo, boys, here we are!!  Come save us!"

Agrippina 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.  Agrippina 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 were.  She 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.  Acerronia Polla was bludgeoned repeatedly.  The poor woman 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

When the news of Agrippina's survival reached Nero, he flipped out.  So much for finesse.  He sent three more assassins to her home.  They 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!!" 

The implication was that Agrippina wished her womb be stabbed first because it had given birth to her abominable son.

Another 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 suicide.

A third 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.  After 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.  2,000 years 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.  Years before 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.

Agrippina replied, "Then let Nero kill me, provided he becomes emperor!!"  

Ah, what a noble thing to say!  Can anyone imagine a more touching illustration of a mother's love?


Chapter 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.  Octavia's banishment proved so unpopular that the citizens of Rome protested loudly.  They openly 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 hateful expression and changed his mind.  So Nero signed Octavia's death warrant instead. 

A few days later, Octavia was bound and her veins were opened in a traditional Roman suicide ritual.  Then she 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 thoughtful gesture!

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 this tale 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?  Except that Poppaea 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.  

Nero 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 dressed 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 wife remained alive. 

Nero had begun his descent into madness. 


Nero would go on to achieve eternal notoriety as the cruelest tyrant in history. The Great Fire of Rome destroyed much of Rome in AD 64Whether Nero set the fire is debatable.  There were five versions of the story presented by Rome's top historians: 

 Motivated 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.

  Motivated 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 the lyre.

  Nero sent out men to set fire to the city. Nero sang and played his lyre from a private stage.

  The fire was an accident. Nero was in Antium.

  The fire 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 feed the helpless Christians to the lions, he would revisit Scapegoat Road time and time again. 


It is well known that 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.


A rumor quickly started 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 fire. 

To appease the masses, Nero quickly scheduled new games in the amphitheater and promised to punish the terrible Christians for their crimes.

Sad to say, Nero's ploy worked like a charm.  Amidst cheering crowds, Nero began by crucifying some of the Christians.  Then others were clothed in the hides of beasts, tied to a stake and torn to death by dogs.  

For 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. 

The scene 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 effectively these living torches could light the night.  There 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.  In AD 65 a high-level conspiracy to assassinate the emperor emergedNero 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 which easily put down the rebellion, but the problems in France encouraged Galba, the governor of 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 in Rome to 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.  Good riddance.

Nero would 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. 

Rome rejoiced, but not for long.  Nero's death led to The Year of the Four Emperors, one of the most bizarre chapters in Roman history.  Within a one year span, the Roman Empire would have four different emperors. 

The suicide of Nero in AD 68 was followed by civil war.  First Galba took over as the sixth Roman Emperor, but he didn't last long. 

Returning to 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. 

When 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??

Note to future Emperors... if you have to choose someone to stiff, don't pick the guards.

Otho was 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.

Vitellius commanded the finest legions of the empire.  The Germans were the most dangerous enemy, so Rome's best army was stationed on the Rhine to keep them in check.  Otho's men met them in battle, but never had a chance.  They were decimated 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 party!  Vitellius engaged in a series of lavish feasts, banquets, triumphal parades, and celebratory games in the arena.  

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 restVitellius 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! 

With 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!   Moreover, he had a clever way of dealing with political rivals.  He invited them to the palace with promises of sharing power only to assassinate them.  Vitellius was so bad he made people start to miss Nero... and that's saying something. 

Word of 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 order.  Vespasian told Titus, his son, to remain in Judaea to deal with the Jewish rebellion, then 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.  Good move.

Then Vespasian 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. 

In August, 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 wasn't over.  


Vitellius fled to Rome Now the chaos of the Civil War bled out onto the streets of Rome. 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. 

Unfortunately, during 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 restored order.  

The Senate 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.

Vespasian would prove to be one of Rome's ten best Emperors. He was the man who finally put Rome back on the right track.  


Chapter Twenty-One:
Conclusion to the Roman Game of Thrones


The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

The term Julio-Claudian Dynasty refers to the series of the first five Roman Emperors.  These men ruled the Roman Empire 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 Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) and Tiberius Claudius Nero (Tiberius).  The ruling line was founded upon an alliance between these two families.

The 5 Emperors of the Dynasty:
  1. Augustus  ( 27 BC– AD 14)
  2. Tiberius     (14– 37)
  3. Caligula     (37– 41)
  4. Claudius    (41– 54)
  5. Nero           (54– 68)


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 the seat.

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 differing opinions.

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 citing one story after another based on the reports of Suetonius.  Out 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 descriptionsTherefore 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.

Robert Graves 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 no proof.

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 mother?

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 history. 

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 particularly interesting.  I have to wonder if the rampant 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. 

Lead Poisoning

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 poisoning.

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.

Murder and Psychological Damage

The people most fit to rule were all murdered.  This left only the lunatic fringe to take over.

Once Augustus 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 empty. 

We have 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 Emperors, 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. 


Rick Archer


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