Characters and Events of Roman History/Julia and Tiberius
Julia and Tiberius
"HE walked with head bent and fixed, the face stern, a taciturn man exchanging no word with those about him.... Augustus realised these severe and haughty manners, and more than once tried to excuse them in the Senate and to the people, saying that they were defects of temperament, not signs of a sinister spirit."
This is the picture that Suetonius gives us of Tiberius, the man who, in 9 B.C., after the death of Agrippa and Drusus, stood next to Augustus, his right hand and pre-established successor. At that time Augustus was fifty-four years old; not an old man, but he was ill and had presided over the Republic for twenty-one years. Many people must have asked themselves what would happen if Augustus should die, or should definitely retire to private life. The answer was not uncertain: since Rome was engaged in the conquest of Germany, the chief of the Empire and of the army ought to be a valiant general and a man of expert acquaintance with Germanic affairs. Tiberius was the first general of his time and knew Germany and the Germans better than any other Roman.
The passage from Suetonius, just quoted, indicates that Tiberius was not altogether popular, yet it was the accepted opinion that Rome and Italy might well be content to rely upon so capable a general and diplomat, if Augustus failed. This attitude, however, changed when the death of Drusus entirely removed the alternative of choice between himself and Tiberius, and the latter, up to that time universally admired, began to be met, even among the nobility, by a strong opposition. How can this apparently inexplicable fact be made clear? The theory of corruption so dear to the ancients, which I have already explained, gives us the key to the mystery. Those who have been disposed to see in that theory merely a plaything of poets, orators, philosophers, will now realise that it had power enough to kill the person and destroy the family of the first citizen of the Empire. That kind of continuous fear of luxury, of amusements, of prodigality, on account of which the ancients called corruption so many things that we define as progress, was not a sentiment always equally alive in the mind of the multitude. The Romans, like ourselves, loved to live and to enjoy; <span id=" 147">this is so true that philosophers and legislators constantly took pains to remind them of the danger of allowing too much liberty to the appetites; but more effective than the counsels of philosophers and the threats of the law, great public calamities inspired in the masses, at least temporarily, a spirit of puritanism and austerity. Of this the consequences of the battle of Actium afforded noteworthy proof.
Those who have read the fourth volume of The Greatness and Decline of Rome may perhaps remember how I have described the conservative and traditionalist movement of the first decade of the government of Augustus. Frightened by the revolution, men's minds had reverted precipitously to the past. A new party, which one might call the traditionalist, had sought to re-establish the old-time order, in the state, in customs, in ideas; to combat the corruption of customs; and of this party Augustus had been the right arm. Indeed, to so great an extent had this party stirred up public spirit and prevailed upon those in power that in 18 B.C. it succeeded in passing some great social laws on luxury, on matrimony, on dress. With these laws, Rome proposed to remake, by terrible measures, the old, prolific, austere nobility of the aristocratic era. The lex de maritandis ordinibus aimed with a thousand vexatious restrictions to constrain the nobility to marry and have children; the lex sumptuaria studied to restrain extravagance; the lex de adulteriis proclaimed martial law in the family, menacing an unfaithful wife and her accomplice with exile for life and the confiscation of half their substance; legislation of the harshest, this, which should scourge Rome to blood, to keep her from falling anew into the inveterate vices from which the civil wars were born.
The impression of the civil wars could not last forever. In fact, in the decade that followed the promulgation of the social laws, the puritan fervour, which had up to that time heated all Italy, began to cool. Wealth increased; the confidence that order and peace were actually re-established, spread everywhere; the generation that had seen the civil wars, disappeared; peace and growing prosperity stirred in the next generation a desire for freedom and pleasure that would not endure the narrow traditionalism and the puritanism of the preceding generation; consequently also the laws of 18 B.C. became intolerable.
To understand this change in public spirit which had such serious consequences, there is no better way than by studying the most celebrated writer of this new generation, Ovid, who represents it most admirably both in life and works. Ovid was born at Sulmona in 43 B.C. He was about the same age as Tiberius,--of a knight's family--that is, of the wealthy middle class. He was destined by his father to the study of oratory and jurisprudence, evidently to make a political man of him, a senator, a future consul or proconsul, and to contribute to the great national restoration that his generation proposed to itself and of which Augustus was architect, preparing a new family for the political aristocracy that was governing the Empire. Ovid's father had all the requirements demanded by law and custom: a considerable fortune, the half-nobility of the equestrian order, an intelligent son, the means to give him the necessary culture--a favourable combination of circumstances which was wholly undone by a bit of unforeseen contrariety, the son's invincible inclination for what his father called, with little respect, a "useless study," literature. The young man had indifferently studied oratory and law, gone to Rome, married, made friendships in the high society of the capital, been elected to the offices preceding the quæstorship; but when the time arrived for presenting himself as candidate for the quæstorship itself--that is, the time for beginning the true curriculum of the magistracies, he had declared that he would rather be a great poet than a consul, and there was no persuading him farther on the long road opened to political ambitions.
With the episode of Julia and Tiberius in mind, I have stated that Ovid's life epitomises the new generation, because it shows us in action the first of the forces that dissolved the aristocratic government and the nobility artificially reconstituted by Augustus at the close of the civil wars--intellectualism. The case of Ovid demonstrates that intellectual culture, literature, poetry, instead of being, for the Roman aristocracy, as in older times, a simple ornament, secondary to politics, had already a prime attraction for the man of genius; that even among the higher classes, devoted by tradition only to military and political life, there appeared, by the side of the leaders in war and politics, the professional literary man. The study of Ovid's work shows something even more noteworthy: that, profiting by the discords in the ruling class, these literary men feared no longer to express and to re-enforce the discontent, the bad feeling, the aversion, that the efforts of the State to re-establish a more vigorous social order was rousing in one part of the public.
Ovid's first important work was the Amores, which was certainly out by the year 8 B.C. although in a different form from that in which we now have it. To understand what this book really was when it was published, one must remember that it was written, read, and what is more, admired, ten years after the promulgation of the lex de maritandis ordinibus and of the lex de adulteriis; it should be read with what remains of the text of those laws in hand.
We are astonished at the book, full of excitements to frivolity, to dissipation, to pleasure, to those very activities that appeared to the ancients to form the most dangerous part of the "corruption." Extravagances of a libertine poet? The single-handed revolt of a corrupt youth, which cannot be considered a sign of the times? No. If there had not been in the public at large, in the higher classes, in the new generation, a general sympathy with this poetry, subversive of the solemn Julian laws, Ovid would never have been recognised in the houses of the great, petted and admired by high society. The great social laws of Augustus, the publication of which had been celebrated by Horace in the Carmen Seculare, wounded too many interests, tormented too many selfishnesses, intercepted too many liberties.
His revolutionary elegies had made Ovid famous, because these interests and these selfishnesses finally rebelled with the new generation, which had not seen the civil wars. Other incidents before and after the publication of the Amores also show this reaction against the social laws. Therefore Augustus proposed about this time to abolish the provision of the lex de maritandis ordinibus that excluded celibates from public spectacles; and by his personal intervention sought to put a check upon the scandalous trials for adultery that his law had originated--two acts that were so much admired by a part of the public that statues were erected to him by popular subscription.
In short, this new movement of public opinion explains the opposition exerted from this time on against Tiberius and makes us understand how there arose the conflict in which this mysterious personage was to be entangled for the rest of his life, and to lose, by no fault of his own, so great a part of his reputation. I hope to prove that the Tiberius of Tacitus and Suetonius is a fantastic personality, the hero of a wretched and improbable romance, invented by party hatred; that Tiberius remained, as a German historian has defined it, an undecipherable enigma, simply <span id=" 153">because there has never been the will to recognise how much alive the aristocratic republican traditions still were, and what force they still exerted in the State and in the family.
Tiberius was but an authentic Claudius--that is, a true descendant of one of the oldest, the proudest, the most aristocratic families of the Roman nobility, a man with all the good qualities and all the defects of the old Roman aristocracy, a man who regarded things and men with the eyes of a senator of the times of Scipio Africanus--a living anachronism, a fossil, if you will, from a by-gone age, in a world that wished to tolerate no more either the vices or the virtues of the old aristocracy. He thought that the Empire ought to be governed by a limited aristocracy of diplomats and warriors, rigidly authoritative, exclusively Roman, which should know how to check the general corrupting of customs, the current extravagance and dissipation, beginning its task by imposing upon itself an inexorable self-discipline. Even though he belonged to the generation of Ovid--to the generation that had not seen the civil wars--Tiberius, by singular exception, kept aloof from the undisciplined frivolity of his contemporaries. He desired the severe application of the social laws of the year 18, as of all the traditional norms of aristocratic discipline. His generation therefore soon found him an enemy, especially after Drusus's death seemed to leave neither doubt nor choice as to the successor of Augustus. From this contemporary attitude arises the tacit aversion in the midst of which, after the lapse of so many centuries, we still feel Tiberius living and working, an aversion which steadily grows even while he renders the most signal services to the Empire.
There was between him and his generation irreconcilable discord. However, it is not likely that this blind and secret hatred alone could have seriously injured Tiberius, whose power and merits were so great, if it had not been considerably helped by incidents of various nature. The first and most important of these was the discord that had arisen, shortly after the death of Drusus, between Tiberius and his wife Julia, the daughter of Augustus and the widow of Agrippa.
Tiberius had married her against his will in the year 11, after the death of Agrippa, by order of Augustus, and had at first tried to live in accord with her; the attempt was vain, and the spirits of the husband and wife were soon parted in fatal disagreement. "He lived at first," writes Suetonius, "in harmony with Julia; but soon grew <span id=" 155">cool toward her, and finally the estrangement reached such a point after the death of their boy born at Aquileia, that Tiberius lived in a separate apartment"--a separation, as we would call it, in "bed and board." What was the reason of this discord? No ancient historian has revealed it; however, we can guess with sufficient probability from what we know of the characters of the pair and the discord that divided Roman society. If Tiberius was not the monster of Capri, Julia was certainly not the miserable Bacchante of the scandalous Roman chronicle. Macrobius has pictured her in human lights and shadows, a probable image, describing her as a highly cultured woman, lavish in tastes and expenditure, fond of beautiful literature, of the fine arts, and of the company of handsome and elegant young men. She belonged to the new generation of which Ovid was spokesman and poet; while Tiberius represented archaic traditionalism, the spirit of a past generation.
It is easy to understand how these two persons, incarnating the irreconcilable opposition of two epochs, two morales, two societies, of Roman militarism and of Oriental culture, could not live together. A man like Tiberius, severe, simple, who detested frivolous pleasures, caring more for war than for society life, could not live in peace with this beautiful and vivacious creature, who loved luxury, prodigality, brilliant company. It is not rash to suppose that the lex sumptuaria of the year 18 was the first grave cause of disagreement. Julia, given, as Macrobius describes her, to profuse expenditure and pretentious elegance, could not take this law seriously; while it was the duty of Tiberius, who always protested by deed as by word against the barren pomp of the rich, to see that his wife serve as an example of simplicity to the other matrons of Rome.
Very soon there occurred an accident, not uncommon in unfortunate marriages, but which for special reasons was, in the family of Tiberius, far more than wontedly dangerous. Tacitus tells us that after Julia was out of favour with Tiberius, she contracted a relation with an elegant young aristocrat, one Sempronius Gracchus, of the family of the famous tribunes. Accepting as true the affirmation of Tacitus, in itself likely, we can very well explain the behaviour and acts of Tiberius in these years. The misdoing of Julia offended not only the man and husband, but placed also the statesman, the representative of the traditionalist party, in the gravest perplexity.
According to the lex de adulteriis, made by <span id=" 157">Augustus in the year 18, the husband ought either to punish the unfaithful wife himself or denounce her to the prætor. Could he, Tiberius, provoke so frightful a scandal in the house of the "First Citizen of the Republic"; drive from Rome, defamed, the daughter of Augustus, the most noted lady of Rome, who had so many friends in all circles of its society? Suetonius speaks of the disgust of Tiberius for Julia, "quam neque criminari aut demittere auderet"--whom he dared neither incriminate nor repudiate. On the other hand, did not he, the intransigeant traditionalist, who kept continually reproving the nobility for their laxity in self-discipline, merit rebuke, for allowing this thing to go on, not applying the law? The difficulty was serious; the lex de adulteriis began to be a torment to its creators. Unable to separate from, unwilling to live with, this woman who had traduced him and whom he despised, Tiberius was reduced to maintaining a merely apparent union to avoid the scandal of a trial and divorce.
This proceeding, however, was an expedient in that condition of things both insufficient and dangerous. The discord between Tiberius and Julia put into the hands of the young nobility, up to that time unarmed, a terrible weapon against the illustrious general, who was, meanwhile, fighting the Germans. The young nobility, inimical to the social laws and to Tiberius, rallied about Julia, and the effects of this alliance were not slow in appearing. Julia had had five sons by Agrippa, of whom the eldest two, Caius and Lucius, had been adopted by Augustus. In the year 6 B.C., the eldest, Caius, reached the age of fourteen. He was therefore but a lad; notwithstanding his youth, there was suddenly brought forward the strange, almost incredible, proposal to make a law by which he might at once be elected consul for the year 754 A.U.C, when he would be twenty years old.
Who made this proposal? Augustus, if we believe Suetonius, out of excessive fondness for his adopted sons. Dion, on the contrary, tells these things differently. He says that from the beginning Augustus opposed the law, and so leads us to doubt that it was either proposed or desired by that Prince. The facts are that a party in Rome kept insisting till Augustus supported this law with his authority, and that from the first he was unwilling to be accessory to an election that overturned without reason every Roman constitutional right.
Who then were these strange admirers of a <span id=" 159">child of fourteen, who to make him consul did not hesitate to do violence to tradition, to the laws, to good sense, and, finally, to the adoptive father? It was the opposition to Tiberius, the party of the young nobility and Julia, who were seeking a rule less severe, and, if not the abolition, at least the mitigated application of the great social laws. They aimed to put forward the young Caius, to set him early before public attention, to hasten his political career, in order to oppose a rival to Tiberius; to prepare another collaborator and successor of Augustus, to make Tiberius less indispensable and therefore less powerful.
In brief, here was the hope of using against Tiberius at once the maternal pride and affection of Julia, the tenderness of Augustus, and the popularity of the name of Cæsar, which Caius carried. The people had never greatly loved the name of the Claudii, a haughty line of invincible aristocrats, always hard and overbearing with the poor, always opposed to the democratic party. The party against Tiberius hoped that when to a Claudius there should be opposed a Cæsar, the public spirit would revert to the dazzling splendour of the name.
Now we understand why Augustus had at first objected. The privileges that he had caused to be conceded to Marcellus, to Drusus, to Tiberius, were all of less consequence than those demanded for Caius and had all been justified either by urgent needs of State, or services already rendered; but how could it be tolerated that without any reason, without the slightest necessity, there should be made consul a lad of fourteen, of whom it would be difficult to predict even whether he would become a man of common sense? Moreover Augustus could not so easily bring himself to offend Tiberius, who would not admit that the chief of the Republic should help his enemies offer him so great an affront. How could it be, that while he, amid fatigues and perils in cold and savage regions, was fighting the Germans and holding in subjection the European provinces, that jeunesse dorée of good-for-nothings, cynics, idlers, poets, which infested the new generation, was conniving with his wife to set against him a child of fourteen?--to gain, as it were, sanction from a law that the State would not be safe till by the side of this Claudius should be placed a Cæsar, beardless and inexpert, as if the name of the latter outweighed the genius and experience of the former? And Augustus, the head of the Republic, would he have tolerated such an outrage? Tiberius not only resisted the law but exacted the open disapproval of Augustus; in fact, at the beginning, Augustus stood out against it as Tiberius wished; but difficulties grew by the way and became grave.
Julia and her friends knew how to dispose public opinion ably in their own favour, to intrigue in the Senate, to exploit the increasing unpopularity of the social laws, of the spreading aversion to Tiberius and the admiration for other members of Augustus's family. The proposal to make Caius consul became in a short time so popular for one or another of these reasons, and as the symbol of a future government less severe and traditionalistic, that Augustus felt less and less able to withstand the current. On the other hand, to yield meant mortally to offend Tiberius. Finally, as was his wont, this astute politician thought to extricate himself from the difficulty by a transaction and an expedient. Dion, shortly after having said that Augustus finally yielded to the popular will, adds that, to make Caius more modest, he gave Tiberius the tribunician power for five years and charged him with subduing the revolt in Armenia. Augustus's idea is clear: he was trying to please everybody--the partisans of Caius Cæsar by not opposing the law, and Tiberius, by giving the most splendid compensation, making him his colleague in place of Agrippa.
Unfortunately, Tiberius was not the man to accept this compensation. No honour could make up for the insult Augustus had done him, though yielding but in part to his enemies, because by so doing even Augustus had seemed to think it necessary to set him beside a lad of fourteen; he would go away; they might do as they pleased and charge Caius with directing the war in Germany. Indignant at the timid opportunism of Augustus, disgusted with the wife whom he could neither accuse nor repudiate, Tiberius demanded permission of Augustus to retire to Rodi to private life, saying that he was tired and in need of repose. Naturally Augustus was frightened, begged and pleaded with him to remain, sent his mother Livia to beseech him, but every effort was futile; Tiberius was obstinate, and finally, since Augustus did not permit his departure, he threatened to let himself die of hunger. Augustus still tried to stand firm; one day, two days, three days, he let him fast without giving the required consent. At the end of the fourth day, Augustus had to recognise that Tiberius had serious intent to kill himself, and yielded. The Senate granted him permission to depart; and Tiberius at once <span id=" 163">started for Ostia, "without saying a word," writes Suetonius, "to those who accompanied him, and kissing but a few."
It would be impossible to decide whether this retaliation of Tiberius's self-love was equal to the offence; and perhaps it is useless to discuss the point. It is certain, however, that the consequences of the departure of Tiberius were weighty. The first result was that the party of the young nobility, the party averse to the laws of the year 18, found itself master of the field; perhaps because the opposing party lost with Tiberius its most authoritative leader; perhaps because Augustus, irritated against Tiberius, inclined still more toward the contrary party; perhaps because public opinion judged severely the departure of Tiberius, who, already little admired, became decidedly unpopular. Julia and her friends triumphed, and not content with having conquered, wished to domineer; shortly afterward they obtained the concession of the same privileges as those granted to Caius for his younger brother Lucius. At the same time, Augustus prepared to make Caius and Lucius his two future collaborators in place of Tiberius; Ovid set his hand to a book still more scandalous and subversive than the Amores, the Ars Amandi; public indulgence covered with its protection all those accused on grounds of the laws of the year 18; and finally, the two boys, Caius and Lucius, became popular, like great personages, all over Italy. There have been found in different cities of the peninsula inscriptions in their honour, one of which, very long and curious, is at Pisa; it is full of absurd eulogies of the two lads, who had as yet done nothing, good or bad. Italy must have been tired enough of a too conservative government, which had lasted twenty-five years, of an Empire reconquered by traditional ideas, if, in order to protest, it lionised the two young sons of Agrippa in ways that contradicted every idea and sentiment of Roman tradition.
In conclusion, the departure of Tiberius, and the severe judgment the public gave it, still further weakened the conservative party, already for some years in decline, by a natural transformation of the public spirit. Perhaps the party of tradition would have been entirely spent, had not events soon reminded Rome that its spirit was the life of the military order. The departure of Tiberius, the man who represented this spirit, rapidly disorganised the army and the external policy of Rome. Up to that time Augustus had had beside him a powerful helper--<span id=" 165">first Agrippa, afterwards Tiberius; but then he found himself alone at the head of the Empire, a man already well on in years; and for the first time it appeared that this zealous bureaucrat, this fastidious administrator, this intellectual idler, who could do an enormous amount of work on condition that he be not forced to issue from his study and encounter currents of air too strong for him, was insufficient to direct alone the politics of an immense empire, which required, in addition to the sagacity of the administrator and the ingenuity of the legislator, the resoluteness of the warrior and the man of action.
The State rapidly fell into a stupor. In Germany, where it was necessary to proceed to the ordering of the province, everything was suspended; the people, apparently subdued, were not bound to pay any tribute, and were left to govern themselves solely and entirely by their own laws--a strange anomaly in the history of the Roman conquests, which only the departure of Tiberius can explain. At such a distance, when he was no longer counselled by Tiberius who so well understood German affairs, Augustus trusted no other assistants, fearing lack of zeal and intelligence; distrusting himself also, he dared initiate nothing in the conquered province. The Senate, inert as usual, gave it not a thought. So Germany remained an uncertainty, neither a province nor independent, for fifteen years, a fact wherein is perhaps to be found the real cause of the catastrophe of Varus, which ruined the whole German policy of Rome.
Furthermore, in Pannonia and Dalmatia, when it was known that the most valiant general of Rome was in disgrace at Rodi, the malcontents took fresh courage, reopened an agitation that could but terminate in a revolt, much more dangerous than any preceding. In the Orient, Palestine arose in 4 B.C., on the death of Herod the Great, against his son, Archelaus, and against the Hellenised monarchy, demanding to be made a Roman province like Syria, and a frightful civil war illumined with its sinister glare the cradle of Jesus. The governor of Syria, Quintilius Varus, threw himself into Judea and succeeded in crushing the revolt; but Augustus, unable to bring himself either to give full satisfaction to the Hebrew people or to execute entirely the testament of Herod, decided as usual on a compromise: he divided the ancient kingdom of Herod the Great among three of his sons, and changed Archelaus's title of king to the more modest one of ethnarch. Then new difficulties arose with the <span id=" 167">Empire of the Parthians. In short, vaguely, in every part of the Empire and beyond its borders, there began to grow the sense that Rome was again weakening; a sense of doubt due to the decadence of the spirit of tradition and of the party representing it; to the new spirit of the new generation; and finally, to the absence of Tiberius, the one capable general of the time, which gradually disorganised even the western armies, the best in the Empire.
This dissolution of the State naturally fed in the traditionalist party the hope of reconquering. Tiberius had sincere friends and admirers, especially among the nobility, less numerous than those of Julia, but more serious, because his merits were real. Many people among the higher classes--even though, like Augustus, they considered the obduracy of Tiberius excessive--thought that Rome no more possessed so many examples of illustrious men as to be able to retire its best general at thirty-seven. Very soon there arose in the circles about Augustus, in the Senate, in the comitia, a bitter contention between Tiberius's friends and his enemies; this was really a struggle between the traditionalist party, which busied itself conserving, together with the traditions of the old Romanism, the military and political power of Rome, and the party of the young nobility, which, without heeding the external dangers, wished to impel habits, ideas, the public spirit, toward the freer, broader forms of the Oriental civilisation, even at the risk of dissolving the State and the army. Julia and Tiberius personify the two parties; between them stands Augustus, who ought to decide, and is more uncertain than ever. Theoretically Augustus always inclined more toward Tiberius, but from disgust at his departure, from solicitude for domestic peace, from his little sympathy with his step-son, he was driven to the opposite party.
In this duel, what was the behaviour and the part of Livia, the mother of Tiberius? The ancient historians tell us nothing; it is, at all events, hardly probable that Livia remained an inactive witness of the long struggle waged to secure the return of Tiberius and his reinstatement in the brilliant position once his. Moreover, Suetonius says that during his entire stay at Rodi, Tiberius communicated with Augustus by means of Livia. At any rate, the party of Tiberius was not long in understanding that he could not re-enter Rome, as long as Julia was popular and most powerful there; that to reopen the gates of Rome to the husband, it was necessary to drive out the wife. <span id=" 169">This was a difficult enterprise, because Julia was upheld by the party already dominant; she had the affection of Augustus; she was the mother of Caius and Lucius Cæsar, the two hopes of the Republic, whose popularity covered her with a respect and a sympathy that made her almost invulnerable. Tiberius, instead, was unpopular. However, there is no undertaking impossible to party hate. Exasperated by the growing disfavour of public opinion, the party of Tiberius decided on a desperate expedient to which Tiberius himself would not have dared set hand; that is, since Julia had a paramour, to adopt against her the weapon supplied by the lex Julia de adulteriis, made by her father, and so provoke the terrible scandal that until then every one had avoided in fear.
Unfortunately, we possess too few documents to write in detail the history of this dreadful episode; but everything becomes clear enough if one sees in the ruin of Julia a kind of terrible political and judicial blackmailing, tried by the friends of Tiberius to remove the chief obstacle to his return, and if one takes it that the friends of Tiberius succeeded in procuring proofs of the guilt of Julia and carried them to Augustus, not as to the head of the State, but to the father.
Dion Cassius says that "Augustus finally, although tardily, came to recognise the misdeeds of his daughter," which signifies that at a given moment, Augustus could no longer feign ignorance of her sins, because the proofs were in the power of irreconcilable enemies, who would have refused to smother the scandal. These mortal enemies of Julia could have been no other than the friends of Tiberius. Julia had violated the law on adultery made by himself; Augustus could doubt it no more.
To understand well the tragic situation in which Augustus was placed by these revelations, one must remember various things: first that the lex de adulteriis, proposed by Augustus himself, obliged the father--when the husband could not, or would not--to punish the guilty daughter, or to denounce her to the prætor, if he had not the courage to punish her himself; second, that this law arranged that if the father and the husband failed to fulfil their proper duty, any one whoever, the first comer, might in the name of public morals make the denunciation to the prætor and stand to accuse the woman and her accomplice. Tiberius, the husband, being absent at Rodi, he, Augustus, the father, must become the Nemesis of his daugh<span id=" 171">ter--must punish her or denounce her; if not, the friends of Tiberius could accuse her to the prætor, hale her before the quæstor, unveil to the public the shame of her private life.
What should he do? Many a father had disdainfully refused to be the executioner of his own daughter, leaving to others the grim office of applying the lex Julia. Could he imitate such an example? He was the head of the Republic, the most powerful man of the Empire, the founder of a new political order; he could decide peace and war, govern the Senate at his pleasure, exalt or abase the powerful of the earth with a nod; and exactly for this reason he dared not evade the bitter task. He feared the envy, the moral and levelling prejudices of the middle classes, which needed every now and then to slaughter in the courts some one belonging to the upper classes, in order to delude themselves that justice is equal for all. To him had been granted the greatest privileges; but precisely on this account was it dangerous to try to cover his daughter with a privileged protection as prey too delicate for public attack. And then, if he himself gave the example of disobeying his law, who would observe it? The tremendous scandal would unnerve all the moral force of his legislation, which was the base of his prestige. The moment was terrible. Imagine this old man of sixty-two wearied by forty-four years of public life, embittered by the difficulties that sprang up about him, disquieted by the dissolution of State of which he was the impotent witness, finding himself all at once facing these alternatives--either destroy his daughter, or undo all the political work over which he had laboured for thirty years; and no temporising possible!
Augustus was not a naturally cruel man, but before these alternatives his mind seems to have been for a moment convulsed by an access of grief and rage, the distant echo of which has come down to us. One moment, as Suetonius says, he had the idea of killing Julia. Then reason, pity, affection, gentler habits, prevailed. He did not give the sentence of death, but he was too practised a politician not to understand that she could not be saved; and as he had immolated Cicero, Lepidus, Antony, so he immolated her also to the necessity of preserving before Italy his prestige of severe legislator and impartial magistrate. To avoid the trial, he resolved to punish her himself with his power of pater familias according to the lex Julia, exiling her to Pandataria and announcing the divorce to her in the <span id=" 173">name of Tiberius. He then despatched to the Senate a record of what he had done, and went away to the country, where he remained a long time, says Suetonius, seeing no one, the prey to profound grief.
It seems that Julia's fall was a surprise to the public. In a day it learned that the highly popular daughter of Augustus had been condemned to exile by her father. This unexpected revelation let a storm loose in the metropolis. Even though there were not then published in Rome those vile newspapers, the pests of modern civilisation, that hunt their soldi in the mud and slime of the basest human passions, the taste for scandalous revelations, the envy of genius and fortune, the pleasure of wreaking cruelty upon the unarmed, the low delight in pouring the basest feelings upon the honour of a woman abandoned by all--these passions animated minds then, as they do to-day; nor were there then wanting, more than now, wretches that profited by them, to gather money or satisfy bad instincts, without being able to dispose of a single, miserable sheet of paper. On every side delators sprang up, and an epidemic of slanders embittered Rome; every man who had name or wealth or some relation with the family of Augustus, ran the risk of being accused as a lover of Julia. Several youths of high society, frightened by these charges, committed suicide; others were condemned. About Julia were invented and spread the most atrocious calumnies, which formed thereafter the basis for the infamous legends that have remained in history attached to her name. The traditionalist party naturally abetted this furor of accusations and inventions, made to persuade the public that a fearful corruption was hidden among the upper classes and that to cure it fire and sword must be used without pity.
The friends of Julia, the party of the young nobility, disconcerted at first by the explosion, did not delay to collect themselves and react; the populace of Rome made some great demonstrations in favour of Julia and demanded her pardon of Augustus. Many indeed, recognising that her punishment was legal, protested against the ferocity of her enemies, who had not hesitated to embitter with so terrible a scandal the old age of Augustus; protested against the mad folly of incrimination with which every part of Rome was possessed. Most people turned, the more envenomed, against Tiberius, attacking him with renewed fury as the cause of all the evil. He it was, they insisted, who had conceived <span id=" 175">the abominable scandal, willed it, imposed it upon Rome and the Empire!
If Livia and the friends of Tiberius had thought to bring him in by the gate where Julia went out, they were not slow in recognising themselves deceived. The fall of Julia struck Tiberius on the rebound in his distant island. His unpopularity, already great, grew by all the disgust that the scandal about Julia had provoked, and became so formidable that one day about this time the inhabitants of Nimes overturned his statues. It was the beginning of the Christian era, but a dark silence brooded over the Palatine; the defamed Julia was making her hard way to Pandataria; Tiberius, discredited and detested, was wasting himself in inaction at Rodi; Augustus in his empty house, disgusted, distrustful, half paralysed by deep grief, would hear to no counsels of peace, of indulgence, of reconciliation. Tiberius and Julia were equally hateful to him, and as he did not allow himself to be moved by the friends of Julia, who did not cease to implore her pardon, so he resisted the friends of Tiberius, who tried to persuade him to reconciliation. What mattered it to him if the administration of the State fell to pieces on all sides; if Germans threatened revolt; if Rome had need of the courage, of the valour, of the experience of Tiberius?
Tiberius from his retreat in Rodi kept every one in Rome afraid, beginning with Augustus. Too rich, too eager now for pleasures and comforts, Rome was almost disgusted with the virtues and the defects that had in fact created it, and which survived in Tiberius--aristocratic pride, the spirit of rigour in authority, military valour, simplicity. Peace had come, extending everywhere, with wealth, the desire for enjoyment, happiness, pleasure, freedom, loosening everywhere the firmest bonds of social discipline, persuading Rome to lay down the heavy armour it had worn for so many centuries.
In this family quarrel, which comprises a struggle of everlasting tendencies, Julia represented the new spirit that will prevail, Tiberius, the old, destined to perish; but for the time being, both spirits, however opposed, were necessary; for peace did not expand its gifts in the Empire without the protection of the great armies that fought on the Rhine and on the Danube. If the spirit of peace refreshed Rome, Italy, the Provinces, only the old aristocratic and military spirit could keep the Germans on the Rhine. As in all great social conflicts, the two opposing <span id=" 177">parties were both, in a certain measure and each from its own point of view, right. Just for that reason, the equilibrium could be found only by a continual struggle in which men on one side and on the other were destined in turn to triumph or fall according to the moment; a struggle in which Augustus, fated to act the part of judge--that is, to recognise, with a final formal sanction, a sentence already pronounced by facts--had against his will in turn to condemn some and reward others.
Julia will remain at Pandataria, and Tiberius will return to Rome when the danger on the Rhine becomes too threatening, yet without much lessening the conclusive vengeance of Julia. That will come in the long torment of the reign of Tiberius; in the infamy that will pursue him to posterity. After having been pitilessly hated and persecuted in life, this man and this woman, who had personified two social forces eternally at war with each other, will both fall in death into the same abyss of unmerited infamy: tragic spectacle and warning lesson on the vanity of human judgments!