Loading...
Larger font
Smaller font
Copy
Print
Contents

The Two Republics, or Rome and the United States of America

 - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "undefined".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font
    Copy
    Print
    Contents

    TIBERIUS

    Forty-three years of the sole authority of Augustus had established the principle of absolutism in government, but “the critical moment for a government is that of its founder’s death.” It was now to be discovered whether that principle was firmly fixed; but Tiberius was fifty-six years old, and had been a careful student of Augustus, and though at his accession the new principle of government was put to its severest test, Tiberius made Augustus his model in all things; “continued his hypocritical moderation, and made it, so to speak, the rule of the imperial government.”—Duruy. 8[Page 85] “History of Rome,” lxxii, sec. i, par. 9.TTR 85.3

    Though he immediately assumed the imperial authority, like his model, “He affected by a most impudent piece of acting to refuse it for a long time; one while sharply reprehending his friends who entreated him to accept it, as little knowing what a monster the government was; another while keeping in suspense the Senate when they implored him and threw themselves at his feet, by ambiguous answers and a crafty kind of dissimulation; in so much that some were out of patience and one cried out during the confusion, ‘Either let him accept it or decline it at once;’ and a second told him to his face: ‘Others are slow to perform what they promise, but you are slow to promise what you actually perform.’ At last as if forced to it, and complaining of the miserable and burdensome service imposed upon him, he accepted the government.”—Suetonius. 9[Page 86] “Lives of the Caesars,” Tiberius, chap. 24.TTR 85.4

    The purpose of all this was, as with Augustus, to cause the Senate by fairly forcing imperial honors upon him, firmly to ally itself to the imperial authority by making itself the guardian of that power; so that when any danger should threaten the emperor, the Senate would thus stand pledged to defend him. And dangers were at this time so thick about Tiberius that he declared he had “a wolf by the ears.”TTR 86.1

    The principle thing that had marked his accession was the murder of Agrippa Posthumus, the son of Agrippa the minister of Augustus; and now a slave of Agrippa’s had got together a considerable force to avenge his master’s death. “Lucius Scribonius Libo, a senator of the first distinction, was secretly fomenting a rebellion, and the troops both in Illyricum and Germany were mutinous. Both armies insisted upon high demands, particularly that their pay should be made equal to that of the praetorian guards. The army in Germany absolutely refused to acknowledge a prince who was not their own choice, and urged with all possible importunity Germanicus, who commanded them, to take the government on himself, though he obstinately refused it.”—Suetonius. 10[Page 86] Id., chap. 25.TTR 86.2

    All these dangers were soon passed, and Tiberius pretending to be the servant of the Senate, “assumed the sovereignty by slow degrees,” and the Senate allowed nothing to check its extravagance in bestowing titles, honors, and powers, for “such was the pestilential character of those times, so contaminated with adulation, that not only the first nobles, whose obnoxious splendor found protection only in obsequiousness, but all who had been consuls, a great part of such as had been praetors, and even many of the inferior senators, strove for priority in the fulsomeness and extravagance of their votes. There is a tradition that Tiberius, as often as he went out of the Senate, was wont to cry out in Greek, ‘How fitted for slavery are these men!’ Yes, even Tiberius, the enemy of public liberty, nauseated the crouching tameness of his slaves.”—Tacitus. 11[Page 87] “Annals,” book iii, chap. lxv.TTR 87.1

    This course of conduct he continued through nine years, and his reign was perhaps as mild during this time as that of any other Roman would have been; but when at last he felt himself secure in the position where he was placed above all law, there was no enormity that he did not commit.TTR 87.2

    One man being now the State, and that one man being “divine,” high treason—violated majesty—became the most common crime, and the “universal resource in accusations.” In former times, “If any one impaired the majesty of the Roman people by betraying an army, by exciting sedition among the Commons, in short, by any maladministration of the public affairs, the actions were matter of trial, but words were free.”—Tacitus. 12[Page 87] Id., book i, chap. lxxii. But now the law embraced “not words only, but a gesture, an involuntary forgetfulness, an indiscreet curiosity.”—Duruy. 13[Page 87] “History of Rome” chap. lxxiii, par. 2. More than this, as the emperor was the embodiment of the divinity of the Roman State, this divinity was likewise supposed to be reflected in the statues and images of him. Any disrespect, any slight, any indifference, any carelessness intentional or otherwise, shown toward any such statue, or image, or picture, was considered as referring to him; was violative of his majesty; and was high treason. If any one counted as sold, a statue of the emperor with the field in which it stood, even though he had made and set up the statue himself; any one who should throw a stone at it; any one who should take away its head; any one who should melt the bronze or use for any profane purpose the stone, even of a broken or mutilated image or statue,—all were alike guilty of high treason.TTR 87.3

    Yet more than this, in all cases of high treason when the accused was found guilty, one fourth of his estate was by law made sure to the informer. “Thus the informers, a description of men called into existence to prey upon the vitals of society and never sufficiently restrained even by penalties, were now encouraged by rewards.”—Tacitus. 14[Page 88] “Annals,” book iv, chap. xxx.TTR 88.1

    Bearing these facts in mind, it is easy to understand the force of that political turn which the priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem took upon Pilate in their charges against Christ: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” John 19:12. On account of the furious jealousy of Tiberius and his readiness to welcome the reports of informers, the priests and Pharisees knew full well, and so did Pilate, that if a deputation should be sent to Rome accusing him of high treason in sanctioning the kingship of a Jew, Pilate would be called to Rome and crucified.TTR 88.2

    Thus in Tiberius the government of Rome became “a furious and crushing despotism.” The emperor being above all law, forgot all restraint, and “abandoned himself to every species of cruelty, never wanting occasions of one kind or another, to serve as a pretext. He first fell upon the friends and acquaintances of his mother, then those of his grandsons and his daughter-in-law, and lastly those of Sejanus, after whose death he became cruel in the extreme.” Sejanus was his chief minister of State and his special friend and favorite—a worthy favorite, too. Tiberius, at his particular solicitation, retired to the island of Capri, where he attempted to imitate the lascivious ways of all the gods and goddesses at once.TTR 88.3

    Sejanus, left in command of the empire, aspired to possess it in full. He had already put away his own wife, and poisoned the son of Tiberius that he might marry his widow. His scheme was discovered; he was strangled by the public executioner, and torn to pieces by the populace. Then, under the accusation of being friends of Sejanus, a great number of people were first imprisoned, and shortly afterward, without even the form of a trial, Tiberius “ordered all who were in prison under accusation of attachment to Sejanus, to be put to death. There lay the countless mass of slain—of every sex and age—the illustrious and the mean; some dispersed, others collected in heaps; nor was it permitted to their friends or kindred to be present, or to shed a tear over them, or any longer even to go and see them; but guards were placed around, who marked signs of sorrow in each, and attended the putrid bodies till they were dragged to the Tiber; where, floating in the stream, or driven upon the banks, none dared to burn them, none to touch them. Even the ordinary intercourse of humanity was intercepted by the violence of fear; and in proportion as cruelty prevailed, commiseration was stifled.”—Tacitus. 15[Page 89] Id., book vi, chap. 19.TTR 89.1

    After the example of Augustus, and to satisfy the clamors of the people, he loaned money without interest for three years to all who wanted to borrow. He first compelled “all money-lenders to advance two thirds of their capital on land, and the debtors to pay off at once the same proportion of their debts.” This was found insufficient to meet all the demands, and he loaned from the public treasury about five millions, of dollars. In order to obtain money to meet this and other drafts on the public treasury, “he turned his mind to sheer robbery. It is certain that Cneius Lentulus, the augur, a man of vast estate, was so terrified and worried by his threats and importunities, that he was obliged to make him his heir.... Several persons, likewise of the first distinction in Gaul, Spain, Syria, and Greece, had their estates confiscated upon such despicably trifling and shameless pretenses, that against some of them no other charge was preferred than that they held large sums of ready money as part of their property. Old immunities, the rights of mining, and of levying tolls, were taken from several cities and private persons.”—Suetonius. 16[Page 90] “Lives of the Caesars,” Tiberius, chaps. xlviii, xlix.TTR 89.2

    As for anything more about “this monster of his species,” we shall only say in the words of Suetonius, “It would be tedious to relate all the numerous instances of his cruelty; suffice it to give a few examples, in their different kinds. Not a day passed without the punishment of some person or other, not excepting holidays, or those appropriated to the worship of the gods. Some were tried even on New Year’s Day. Of many who were condemned, their wives and children shared the same fate; and for those who were sentenced to death, the relations were forbid to put on mourning.TTR 90.1

    “Considerable rewards were voted for the prosecutors, and sometimes for the witnesses also. The information of any person, without exception, was taken, and all offenses were capital, even speaking a few words, though without any ill intention. A poet was charged with abusing Agamemnon; and a historian, for calling Brutus and Cassius ‘the last of the Romans.’ The two authors were immediately called to account, and their writings suppressed, though they had been well received some years before, and read in the hearing of Augustus. Some who were thrown into prison, were not only denied the solace of study, but debarred from all company and conversation. Many persons, when summoned to trial, stabbed themselves at home, to avoid the distress and ignominy of a public condemnation, which they were certain would ensue. Others took poison in the Senate house. The wounds were bound up, and all who had not expired, were carried, half dead, and panting for life, to prison. Those who were put to death, were thrown down the Gemonian stairs, and then dragged into the Tiber. In one day, twenty were treated in this manner, and amongst them women and boys. Because, according to an ancient custom, it was not lawful to strangle virgins, the young girls were first deflowered by the executioner, and afterwards strangled.TTR 90.2

    “Those who were desirous to die, were forced to live. For he thought death so slight a punishment, that upon hearing that Carnulius, one of the accused, who was under prosecution, had killed himself, he exclaimed, ‘Carnulius has escaped me.’ In calling over his prisoners, when one of them requested the favor of a speedy death, he replied, ‘You are not yet restored to favor.’ A man of consular rank writes in his annals that at table, where he himself was present with a large company, he was suddenly asked aloud by a dwarf who stood by amongst the buffoons, why Paconius, who was under a prosecution for treason, lived so long. Tiberius immediately reprimanded him for his pertness, but wrote to the Senate a few days after, to proceed without delay to the punishment of Paconius.”—Suetonius 17[Page 91] “Lives of the Caesars,” Tiberius, chaps. lxi, lxii.TTR 91.1

    Tiberius died March 16, A. D. 37, in the seventy-eighth year of his age and the twenty-third year of his reign, and was succeeded by—TTR 91.2

    Larger font
    Smaller font
    Copy
    Print
    Contents