The Women of the Caesars/Chapter 3
The daughters of Agrippa
Tiberius had now broken with Augustus, he had lost the support of public opinion, he was hated by the majority of the senate. At Rhodes he soon found himself, therefore, in the awkward position of one who through a false move has played into the hands of his enemies and sees no way of recovering his position. It had been easy to leave Rome; to reenter it was difficult, and in all probability his fortune would have been forever compromised, and he would never have become emperor, had it not been for the fact that in the midst of this general defection two women remained faithful. They were his mother, Livia, and his sister-in-law, Antonia, the widow of that brother Drusus who, dying in his youth, had carried to his grave the hopes of Rome.
Antonia was the daughter of the emperor's sister Octavia and of Mark Antony, the famous triumvir whose name remains forever linked in story with that of Cleopatra. This daughter of Antony was certainly the noblest and the gentlest of all the women who appear in the lugubrious and tragic history of the family of the Caesars. Serious, modest, and even-tempered, she was likewise endowed with beauty and virtue, and she brought into the family and into its struggles a spirit of concord, serenity of mind, and sweet reasonableness, though they could not always prevail against the violent passions and clashing interests of those about her. As long as Drusus lived, Drusus and Antonia had been for the Romans the model of the devoted pair of lovers, and their tender affection had become proverbial; yet the Roman multitude, always given to admiring the descendants of the great families, was even more deeply impressed by the beauty, the virtue, the sweetness, the modesty, and the reserve of Antonia. After the death of Drusus, she did not wish to marry again, even though the Lex de maritandis ordinibus made it a duty. "Young and beautiful," wrote Valerius Maximus, "she withdrew to a life of retirement in the company of Livia, and the same bed which had seen the death of the youthful husband saw his faithful spouse grow old in an austere widowhood." Augustus and the people were so touched by this supreme proof of fidelity to the memory of the ever-cherished husband that by the common consent of public opinion she was relieved of the necessity of remarrying; and Augustus himself, who had always carefully watched over the observance of the marital law in his own family, did not dare insist. Whether living at her villa of Bauli, where she spent the larger part of her year, or at Rome, the beautiful widow gave her attention to the bringing up of her three children, Germanicus, Livilla, and Claudius. Ever since the death of Octavia, she had worshiped Livia as a mother and lived in the closest intimacy with her, and, withdrawn from public life, she attempted now to bring a spirit of peace into the torn and tragic family.
Antonia was very friendly with Tiberius, who, on his side, felt the deepest sympathy and respect for his beautiful and virtuous sister-in-law. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that in this crisis Antonia, who was bound to Livia by many ties, must have taken sides for Livia's son Tiberius. But Antonia was too gentle and mild to lead a faction in the struggle which during these years began between the friends and the enemies of Tiberius, and that role was assumed by Livia, who possessed more strength and more authority.
The situation grew worse and worse. Public opinion steadily became more hostile to Tiberius and more favorable to Julia and her elder son, and it was not long before they wished to give to her younger son, Lucius, the same honors which had already been bestowed upon his brother Caius. Private interest soon allied itself with the hatred and rancor against Tiberius; and scarcely had he departed when the senate increased the appropriation for public supplies and public games. All those who profited by these appropriations were naturally interested in preventing the return of Tiberius, who was notorious for his opposition to all useless expenditures. Any measure, however dishonest, was therefore considered proper, provided only it helped to ruin Tiberius; and his enemies had recourse to every art and calumny, among other things actually accusing him of conspiracies against Augustus. Even for a woman as able and energetic as Livia it was an arduous task to struggle against the inclinations of Augustus, against public opinion, against the majority of the senate, against private interest, and against Julia and her friends. Indeed, four years passed during which the situation of Tiberius and his party grew steadily worse, while the party of Julia increased in power.
Finally the party of Tiberius resolved to attempt a startlingly bold move. They decided to cripple the opposition by means of a terrible scandal in the very person of Julia. The Lex Julia de adulteriis, framed by Augustus in the year 18, authorized any citizen to denounce an unfaithful wife before the judges, if the husband and father should both refuse to make the accusation. This law, which was binding upon all Roman citizens, was therefore applicable even to the daughter of Augustus, the widow of Agrippa, the mother of Caius and Lucius Caesar, those two youths in whom were centered the hopes of the republic. She had violated the Lex Julia and she had escaped the penalties which had been visited on many other ladies of the aristocracy only because no one had dared to call down this scandal upon the first family of the empire. The party of Tiberius, protected and guided by Livia, at last hazarded this step.
It is impossible to say what part Livia played in this terrible tragedy. It is certain that either she or some other influential personage succeeded in gaining possession of the proofs of Julia's guilt and brought them to Augustus, threatening to lay them before the pretor and to institute proceedings if he did not discharge his duty. Augustus found himself constrained to apply to himself his own terrible law. He himself had decreed that if the husband, as was then the case of Tiberius, could not accuse a faithless woman, the father must do so. It was his law, and he had to bow to it in order to avoid scandals and worse consequences. He exiled Julia to the little island of Pandataria, and at the age of thirty-seven the brilliant, pleasing, and voluptuous young woman who had dazzled Rome for many years was compelled to disappear from the metropolis forever and retire to an existence on a barren island. She was cut off by the implacable hatred of a hostile party and by the inexorable cruelty of a law framed by her own father!
The exile of Julia marks the moment when the fortunes of Tiberius and Livia, which had been steadily losing ground for four years, began to revive, though not so rapidly as Livia and Tiberius had probably expected. Julia preserved, even in her misfortune, many faithful friends and a great popularity. For a long time popular demonstrations were held in her favor at Rome, and many busied themselves tenaciously to obtain her pardon from Augustus, all of which goes to prove that the horrible infamies which were spread about her were the inventions of enemies. Julia had broken the Lex Julia,—so much is certain,—but even if she had been guilty of an unfortunate act, she was not a monster, as her enemies wished to have it believed. She was a beautiful woman, as there had been before, as there are now, and as there will be hereafter, touched with human vices and with human virtues.
As a matter of fact, her party, after it had recovered from the terrible shock of the scandal, quickly reorganized. Firm in its intention of having Julia pardoned, it took up the struggle again, and tried as far as it could to hinder Tiberius from returning to Rome and again taking part in political life, knowing well that if the husband once set foot in Rome, all hope of Julia's return would be lost. Only one of them could reenter Rome. It was either Tiberius or Julia; and more furiously than ever the struggle between the two parties was waged about Augustus.
Caius and Lucius Caesar, Julia's two youthful sons, of whom Augustus was very fond, were the principal instruments with which the enemies of Tiberius fought against the influence of Livia over Augustus. Every effort was made to sow hatred and distrust between the two youths and Tiberius, to the end that it might become impossible to have them collaborate with him in the government of the empire, and that the presence of Julia's sons should of necessity exclude that of her husband. A further ally was soon found in the person of another child of Julia and Agrippa, the daughter who has come down into history under the name of the Younger Julia. Augustus had conceived as great a love for her as for the two sons, and there was no doubt that she would aid with every means in her power the party averse to Tiberius; for her mother's instincts of liberty, luxury, and pleasure were also inherent in her. Married to L. Aemilius Paulus, the son of one of the greatest Roman families, she had early assumed in Rome a position which made her, like her mother, the antithesis of Livia. She, too, gathered about her, as the elder Julia had done, a court of elegant youths, men of letters, and poets,—Ovid was of the number,—and with this group she hoped to be able to hold the balance of power in the government against that coterie of aged senators who paid court to Livia. She, too, took advantage of the good-will of her grandfather, just as her mother had done, and in the shadow of his protection she displayed an extravagance which the laws did not permit, but which, on this account, was all the more admired by the enemies of the old Roman Puritanism. As though openly to defy the sumptuary law of Augustus, she built herself a magnificent villa; and, if we dare believe tradition, it was not long before she, too, had violated the very law which had proved disastrous to her mother.
Thus, even after the departure of Julia, her three children, Caius, Lucius, and Julia the Younger, constituted in Rome an alliance which was sufficiently powerful to contest every inch of ground with the party of Livia; for they had public opinion in their favor, they enjoyed the support of the senate, and they played upon the weakness of Augustus. In the year 2 A.D., after four years of exhaustive efforts spent in struggle and intrigue, all that Livia had been able to obtain was the mere permission that Tiberius might return to Rome, under the conditions, however, that he retire to private life, that he give himself up to the education of his son, and that he in no wise mingle in public affairs. The condition of the empire was growing worse on every side; the finances were disordered, the army was disorganized, and the frontiers were threatened, for revolt was raising its head in Gaul, in Pannonia, and especially in Germany. Every day the situation seemed to demand the hand of Tiberius, who, now in the prime of life, was recognized as one of the leading administrators and the first general of the empire. But, for all Livia's insistence, Augustus refused to call Tiberius back into the government. The Julii were masters of the state, and held the Claudii at a distance.
Perhaps Tiberius would never have returned to power in Rome had not chance aided him in the sudden taking off, in a strange and unforeseen manner, of Caius and Lucius Caesar. The latter died at Marseilles, following a brief illness, shortly after the return of Tiberius to Rome, August 29, in the year 2 A.D. It was a great grief to Augustus, and, twenty months after, was followed by another still more serious. In February of the year 4, Caius also died, in Lycia, of a wound received in a skirmish. These two deaths were so premature, so close to each other, and so opportune for Tiberius, that posterity has refused to see in them simply one of the many mischances of life. Later generations have tried to believe that Livia had a hand in these fatalities. Yet he who understands life at all knows that it is easier to imagine and suspect romantic poisonings of this sort than it is to carry them out. Even leaving the character of Livia out of consideration, it is difficult to imagine how she would have dared, or have been able, to poison the two youths at so great a distance from Rome, one in Asia, the other in Gaul, by means of a long train of accomplices, and this at a moment when the family of Augustus was divided by many hatreds and every member was suspected, spied upon, and watched by a hostile party. Furthermore, it would have been necessary to carry this out at a time when the example of Julia proved to all that relationship to Augustus was not a sufficient defense against the rigors of the law and the severity of public opinion when roused by any serious crime. Besides, it is a recognized fact that people are always inclined to suspect a crime whenever a man prominent in the public eye dies before his time. At Turin, for example, there still lives a tradition among the people that Cavour was poisoned, some say by the order of Napoleon III, others by the Jesuits, simply because his life was suddenly cut off, at the age of fifty-two, at the moment when Italy had greatest need of him. Indeed, even to-day we are impressed when we see in the family of Augustus so many premature deaths of young men; but precisely because these untimely deaths are frequent we come to see in them the predestined ruin of a worn-out race in history. All ancient families at a certain moment exhaust themselves. This is the reason why no aristocracy has been able to endure for long unless continually renewed, and why all those that have refused to take in new blood have failed from the face of the earth. There is no serious reason for attributing so horrible a crime to a woman who was venerated by the best men of her time; and the fables which the populace, always faithful to Julia, and therefore hostile to Livia, recounted on this score, and which the historians of the succeeding age collected, have no decisive value.
The deaths of Caius and Lucius Caesar were therefore a great good fortune for Tiberius, because it determined his return to power. The situation of the empire was growing worse on every hand; Germany was in the midst of revolt, and it was necessary to turn the army over to vigorous hands. Augustus, old and irresolute, still hesitated, fearing the dislike which was brewing both in the senate and among the people against the too dictatorial Tiberius. At last, however, he was forced to yield.
The more serious, more authoritative, more ancient party of the senatorial nobility, in accord with Livia and headed by a nephew of Pompey, Cnaeus Cornelius Cinna, forced him to recall Tiberius, threatening otherwise to have recourse to some violent measures the exact character of which we do not know. The unpopularity of Tiberius was a source of continual misgivings to the aging Augustus, and it was only through this threat of a yet greater danger that they finally overcame his hesitation. On June 26, in the fourth year of our era, Augustus adopted Tiberius as his son, and had conferred upon him for ten years the office of tribune, thus making him his colleague. Tiberius returned to power, and, in accordance with the wishes of Augustus, adopted as his son Germanicus, the elder son of Drusus and Antonia, his faithful friend. He was an intelligent, active lad of whom all entertained the highest hopes.
On his return to power, Tiberius, together with Augustus, took measures for reorganizing the army and the state, and sought to bring about by means of new marriages and acts of clemency a closer union between the Julian and Claudian branches of the family, then bitterly divided by the violent struggles of recent years. The terms of Julia's exile were made easier; Germanicus married Agrippina, another daughter of Julia and Agrippa, and a sister of Julia the Younger; the widow of Caius Caesar, Livilla, sister of Germanicus and daughter of Antonia, was given to Drusus, the son of Tiberius, a young man born in the same year as Germanicus. Drusus, despite certain defects, such as irascibility and a marked fondness for pleasure, gave evidence that he possessed the requisite qualities of a statesman—firmness, sound judgment, and energy. The policy which dictated these marriages was always the same—to make of the family of Augustus one formidable and united body, so that it might constitute the solid base of the entire government of the empire. But, alas! wise as were the intentions, the ferments of discord and the unhappiness of the times prevailed against them. Too much had been hoped for in recalling Tiberius to power. During the ten years of senile government, the empire had been reduced to a state of utter disorder. The measures planned by Tiberius for reestablishing the finances of the state roused the liveliest discontent among the wealthy classes in Italy, and again excited their hatred against him. In the year 6 A.D., the great revolt of Pannonia broke out and for a moment filled Italy with unspeakable terror. In an instant of mob fury, they even came to fear that the peninsula would be invaded and Rome besieged by the barbarians of the Danube. Tiberius came to the rescue, and with patience and coolness put down the insurrection, not by facing it in open conflict, but by drawing out the war to such a length as to weary the enemy, a method both safe and wise, considering the unreliable character of the troops at his command. But at Rome, once the fear had subsided, the long duration of the war became a new cause for dissatisfaction and anger, and offered to many a pretext for venting their long-cherished hatred against Tiberius, who was accused of being afraid, of not knowing how to end the war, and of drawing it out for motives of personal ambition. The party averse to Tiberius again raised its head and resorted once more to its former policy—that of urging on Germanicus against Tiberius. The former was young, ambitious, bold, and would have preferred daring strokes and a war quickly concluded. It is certain that there would have risen then and there a Germanican and a Tiberian party, if Augustus, on this occasion, had not energetically sustained Tiberius from Rome. But the situation again became strained and full of uncertainty.
In the midst of these conflicts and these fears, a new scandal broke out in the family of Augustus. The Younger Julia, like her mother, allowed herself to be caught in violation of the Lex Julia de adulteriis, and she also was compelled to take the road of exile. In what manner and at whose instance the scandal was disclosed we do not know; we do know, however, that Augustus was very fond of his granddaughter, whence we can assume that in this moment of turbid agitation, when so much hatred was directed against his family and his house, and when so many forces were uniting to overthrow Tiberius again, notwithstanding the fact that he had saved the empire, Augustus felt that he must a second time submit to his own law. He did not dare contend with the puritanical party, with the more conservative minority in the senate,—the friends of Tiberius,—over this second victim in his family. Without a doubt everything possible was done to hush up the scandal, and there would scarcely have come down to us even a summary notice of the exile of the second Julia had it not been that among those exiled with her was the poet Ovid, who was to fill twenty centuries with his laments and to bring them to the ears of the latest generations.
Ovid's exile is one of those mysteries of history which has most keenly excited the curiosity of the ages. Ovid himself, without knowing it, has rendered it more acute by his prudence in not speaking more clearly of the cause of his exile, making only rare allusions to it, which may be summed up in his famous words, carmen et error. It is for this reason that posterity has for twenty centuries been asking itself what was this error which sent the exquisite poet away to die among the barbarous Getae on the frozen banks of the Danube; and naturally they have never compassed his secret. But if, therefore, it is impossible to say exactly what the error was which cost Ovid so dearly, it is possible, on the other hand, to explain that unique and famous episode in the history of Rome to which, after all, Ovid owes a great part of his immortality. He was not the victim, as has been too often repeated, of a caprice of despotism; and therefore he cannot be compared with any of the many Russian writers whom the administration, through fear and hatred, deports to Siberia without definite reason. Certainly the error of Ovid lay in his having violated some clause of the Lex Julia de adulteriis, which, as we know, was so comprehensive in its provisions that it considered as accessories to the crime those guilty of various acts and deeds which, judged even with modern rigor and severity, would seem reprehensible, to be sure, but not deserving of such terrible punishment. Ovid was certainly involved under one of these clauses,—which one we do not, and never shall, know,—but his error, whether serious or light, was not the true cause of his condemnation. It was the pretext used by the more conservative and puritanical part of Roman society to vent upon him a long-standing grudge the true motives of which lay much deeper.
What was the standing of this poet of the gay, frivolous, exquisite ladies whom they wished to send into exile? He was the author of that graceful, erotic poetry who, through the themes which he chose for his elegant verses, had encouraged the tendencies toward luxury, diversion, and the pleasures which had transformed the austere matron of a former day into an extravagant and undisciplined creature given to voluptuousness; the poet who had gained the admiration of women especially by flattering their most dangerous and perverse tendencies. The puritanical party hated and combatted this trend of the newer generations, and therefore, also, the poetry of Ovid on account of its disastrous effects upon the women, whom it weaned from the virtues most prized in former days—frugality, simplicity, family affection, and purity of life. The Roman aristocracy did not recognize the right of absolute literary freedom which is acknowledged by many modern states, in which writers and men of letters have acquired a strong political influence. The theory, held by many countries to-day that any publication is justifiable, provided it be a work of art, was not accepted by the Romans in power. On the contrary, they were convinced that an idea or a sentiment, dangerous in itself, became still more harmful when artistically expressed. Therefore Rome had always known the existence of a kind of police supervision of ideas and of literary forms, exercised through various means by the ruling aristocracy, and especially in reference to women, who constituted that element of social life in which virtue and purity of customs are of the greatest consequence. The Roman ladies of the aristocracy, as we have seen, received considerable instruction. They read the poets and philosophers, and precisely for this reason there was always at Rome a strong aversion to light and immoral literature. If books had circulated among men only, the poetry of Ovid would perhaps not have enjoyed the good fortune of a persecution which was to focus upon it the attention of posterity. The greater liberty conceded to women thus placed upon society an even greater reserve in the case of its literature. This Ovid learned to his cost when he was driven into exile because his books gave too much delight to too many ladies at Rome. By the order of Augustus these books were removed from the libraries, which did not hinder their coming down to us entire, while many a more serious work—like Livy's history, for example—has been either entirely or in large part lost.
After the fall of the second Julia up to the time of his death, which occurred August 23, in the year 14 A.D., Augustus had no further serious griefs over the ladies of his family. The great misfortune of the last years of his government was a public misfortune—the defeat of Varus and the loss of Germany. But with what sadness must he have looked back in the last weeks of his long life upon the history of his family! All those whom he had loved were torn from him before their time by a cruel destiny: Drusus, Caius, and Lucius Caesar by death; the Julias by the cruelty of the law and by an infamy worse than death. The unique grandeur to which he had attained had not brought fortune to his family. He was old, almost alone, a weary survivor among the tombs of those dear to him who had been untimely lost through fate, and with the still sadder memories of those who had been buried in a living grave of infamy. His only associates were Tiberius, with whom he had become reconciled; Antonia, his sweet and highly respected daughter-in-law; and Livia, the woman whom destiny had placed at his side in one of the most critical moments of his life, the faithful companion through fifty-two years of his varied and wonderful fortune. We can therefore understand why it was that, as the historians tell us, the last words of the old emperor should have been a tender expression of gratitude to his faithful wife. "Farewell, farewell, Livia! Remember our long union!" With these words, rendering homage to the wife whom custom and the law had made the faithful and loving companion, and not the docile slave, of her husband, he ended his life like a true Roman.
If the family of Augustus had undergone grievous vicissitudes during his life, its situation became even more dangerous after his death. The historian who sets out with the preconceived notion that Augustus founded a monarchy, and imagines that his family was destined to enjoy the privileges which in all monarchies are accorded the sovereign's house, will never arrive at a complete understanding of the story of the first empire. His family did, to be sure, always enjoy a privileged status, if not at law, at least in fact, and through the very force of circumstances; but it was not for naught that Rome had been for many centuries an aristocratic republic in which all the families of the nobility had considered themselves equal, and had been subject to the same laws. The aristocracy avenged itself upon the imperial family for the privileges which the lofty dignity of its head assured it by giving it hatred instead of respect. They suspected and calumniated all of its members, and with a malicious joy subjected them, whenever possible, to the common laws and even maltreated with particular ferocity those who by chance fell under the provisions of any statute. As a compensation for the privileges which the royal family enjoyed, they had to assume the risk of receiving the harshest penalties of the laws. If any of them, therefore, fell under the rigor of these laws, the senatorial aristocracy especially was ever eager to enjoy the atrocious satisfaction of seeing one of the favored tortured as much as or more than the ordinary man. There is no doubt, for example, that the two Julias were more severely punished and disgraced than other ladies of the aristocracy guilty of the same crime. And Augustus was forced to waive his affection for them in order that it might not be said, particularly in the senate, that his relatives enjoyed special favors and that Augustus made laws only for others.
Yet as long as Augustus lived, he was a sufficient protection for his relatives. He was, especially in the last twenty years of his life, the object of an almost religious veneration. The great and stormy epoch out of which he had risen, the extraordinary fortune which had assisted him, his long reign, the services both real and imaginary which he had rendered the empire—all had conferred upon him such an authority that envy laid aside its most poisonous darts before him. Out of respect for him even his family was not particularly calumniated or maltreated, save now and then in moments of great irritation, as when the two Julias were condemned. But after his death the situation grew considerably worse; for Tiberius, although he was a man of great capacity and merit, a sagacious administrator and a valiant general, did not enjoy the sympathy and respect which had been accorded to Augustus. Rather was he hated by those who had for a long time sided with Caius and Lucius Caesar and who formed a considerable portion of the senate and the aristocracy. It was not the spontaneous admiration of the senate and of the people, but the exigencies of the situation, which had made him master of the government when Augustus died. The empire was at war with the Germans, and the Pannonico-Illyrian provinces were in revolt, and it was necessary to place at the head of the empire a man who should strike terror to the hearts of the barbarians and who on occasion should be able to combat them. Tiberius, furthermore, was so well aware that the majority of the senate and the Roman people would submit to his government only through force, that he had for a long time been in doubt whether to accept the empire or not, so completely did he understand that with so many enemies it would be difficult to rule.
Under the government of Tiberius the imperial family was surrounded by a much more intense and open hatred than under Augustus. One couple only proved an exception, Germanicus and Agrippina, who were very sympathetic to the people. But right here began the first serious difficulties for Tiberius. Germanicus was twenty-nine years old when Tiberius took over the empire, and about him there began to form a party which by courting and flattering both him and his wife began to set him up against Tiberius. In this they were unconsciously aided by Agrippina. Unlike her sister Julia, she was a lady of blameless life; faithfully in love with her husband; a true Roman matron, such as tradition had loved; chaste and fruitful, who at the age of twenty-six had already borne nine children, of whom, however, six had died. But Agrippina was to show that in the house of Augustus, in those tumultuous, strange times, virtue was not less dangerous than vice, though in another way and for different reasons. She was so proud of her fidelity to her husband and of the admiration which she aroused at Rome that all the other defects of her character were exaggerated and increased by her excessive pride in her virtue. And among these defects should be counted a great ambition, a kind of harum-scarum and tumultuous activity, an irreflective impetuosity of passion, and a dangerous lack of balance and judgment. Agrippina was not evil; she was ambitious, violent, intriguing, imprudent, and thoughtless, and therefore could easily adapt her own feelings and interests to what seemed expedient. She had much influence over her husband, whom she accompanied upon all his journeys; and out of the great love she bore him, in which her own ambition had its part, she urged him on to support that hidden movement which was striving to oppose Germanicus to the emperor.
That two parties were not formed was due very largely to the fact that Germanicus was sufficiently reasonable not to allow himself to be carried too far by the current which favored him, and possibly also to the fact that during the entire reign of Tiberius his mother Antonia was the most faithful and devoted friend of the emperor. After his divorce from Julia, Tiberius had not married again, and the offices of tenderness which a wife should have given him were discharged in part by his mother, but largely by his sister-in-law. No one exercised so much influence as Antonia over the diffident and self-centered spirit of the emperor. Whoever wished to obtain a favor from him could do no better than to intrust his cause to Antonia. There is no doubt, therefore, that Antonia checked her son, and in his society counterbalanced the influence of his wife.
But even if two parties were not formed, it was not long before other difficulties arose. Discord soon made itself felt between Livia and Agrippina. More serious still was the fact that Germanicus, who, after the death of Augustus, had been sent as a legate to Gaul, initiated a German policy contrary to the instructions given him by Tiberius. This was due partly to his own impetuous temperament and partly to the goadings of his wife and the flatterers who surrounded him. Tiberius, whom the Germans knew from long experience, no longer wished to molest them. The revolt of Arminius proved that when their independence was threatened by Rome they were capable of uniting and becoming dangerous; when left to themselves they destroyed one another by continual wars. It was advisable, therefore, according to Tiberius, not to attack or molest them, but at the proper moment to fan the flames of their continual dissensions and wars in order that, while destroying themselves, they should leave the empire in peace. This wise and prudent policy might please a seasoned soldier like Tiberius, who had already won his laurels in many wars and who had risen to the pinnacle of glory and power. It did not please the pushing and eager youth Germanicus, who was anxious to distinguish himself by great and brilliant exploits, and who had at his side, as a continual stimulus, an ambitious and passionate wife, surrounded by a court of flatterers. Germanicus, on his own initiative, crossed the Rhine and took up the offensive again all along the line, attacking the most powerful of the German tribes one after the other in important and successful expeditions. At Rome this bold move was naturally looked upon with pleasure, especially by the numerous enemies of Tiberius, either because boldness in politics rather than prudence always pleases those who have nothing to lose, or because it was felt that the glory which accrued to Germanicus might offend the emperor. And Tiberius, though he did disapprove, allowed his adopted son to continue for a time, doubtless in order that he might not have to shock public opinion and that it might not seem that he wished to deprive the youthful Germanicus of the glory which he was gaining for himself.
He was nevertheless resolved not to allow Germanicus to involve Rome too deeply in German affairs, and when it seemed to him that the youth had fittingly proved his prowess and had made the enemies of Rome feel its power sufficiently, he recalled him and in his stead sent Drusus, who was his real, and not his adopted, son. But this recall did not at all please the party of Germanicus, who were loud and bitter in their recriminations. They began to murmur that Tiberius was jealous of Germanicus and his popularity; that he had recalled him in order to prevent his winning glory by an immortal achievement. Tiberius so little thought of keeping Germanicus from using his brilliant qualities in the service of Rome that shortly after, in the year 18 A.D., he sent him into the Orient to introduce order into Armenia, which was shaken by internal dissensions, and he gave him a command there not less important than the one of which he had deprived him. At the same time he was unwilling to intrust things entirely to the judgment of Germanicus, in whom he recognized a young man of capacity and valor, but, nevertheless, a young man influenced by an imprudent wife and incited by an irresponsible court of flatterers. For this reason he placed at his side an older and more experienced man in whom he had the fullest confidence—Cnaeus Piso, a senator who belonged to one of the most illustrious families in Rome.
It was the duty of Cnaeus Piso to counsel, to restrain, and to aid the young Germanicus, and doubtless also to keep Tiberius informed of all that Germanicus was doing in the East. When we remember that Tiberius was responsible for the empire, no one will deny him the right of setting a guard upon the young man of thirty-three, into whose hands had been intrusted many and serious interests. But though this idea was warrantable in itself, it became the source of great woe. Germanicus was offended, and, driven on by his friends, he broke with Piso. The latter had brought with him his wife Plancina, who was a close friend of Livia, just as Germanicus had brought Agrippina. The two wives fell to quarreling no less furiously than their husbands, and two parties were formed in the Orient, one for Piso and one for Germanicus, who accused each other of illegality, extortion, and assuming unwarranted powers; and each thought only of undoing what the other had accomplished. It is difficult to tell which of the two was right or in how far either was right or wrong, for the documents are too few and the account of Tacitus, clouded by an undiscerning antipathy, sheds no light upon this dark secret. In any case, we are sure that Germanicus did not always respect the laws and that he occasionally acted with a supreme heedlessness which now and then forced Tiberius to intervene personally, as he did on the occasion when Germanicus left his province with Agrippina in order that, dressed like a Greek philosopher, he might make a tour of Egypt and see that country, which then, as now, attracted the attention of persons of culture. But at that time, unlike the present, there was an ordinance of Augustus which forbade Roman senators to set foot in Egypt without special permission. As he had paid no attention to this prohibition, we need not be astonished if we find that Germanicus did not respect as scrupulously as Tiberius wished all the laws which defined his powers and set limits to his authority.
However that may be, the dissension between Germanicus and Piso filled the entire Orient with confusion and disorder, and it was early echoed at Rome, where the party hostile to Tiberius continued to accuse him, out of motives of hatred and jealousy, of forever laying new obstacles in the way of his adopted son. Livia, too, now no longer protected by Augustus, became a target for the accusations of a malevolent public opinion. It was said that she persecuted Germanicus out of hatred for Agrippina. Tiberius was much embarrassed, being hampered by public opinion favorable to Germanicus and at the same time desiring that his sons should set an example of obedience to the laws.
A sudden catastrophe still further complicated the situation. In 19 A.D. Germanicus was taken ill at Antioch. The malady was long and marked by periods of convalescence and relapses, but finally, like his father and like his brothers-in-law, Germanicus, too, succumbed to his destiny in the fullness of youth. At thirty-four, when life with her most winning smiles seemed to be stretching out her arms to him, he died. This one more untimely death brought to an abrupt end a most dangerous political struggle. Is it to be wondered at, then, that the people, whose imagination had been aroused, should have begun to murmur about poison? The party of Germanicus was driven to desperation by this death, which virtually ended its existence, and destroyed at a single stroke all the hopes of those who had seen in Germanicus the instrument of their future fortune. They therefore eagerly collected, embellished, and spread these rumors. Had Agrippina been a woman of any judgment or reflection, she would have been the first to see the absurdity of this foolish gossip; but as a matter of fact no one placed more implicit faith in such reports than she, now that affliction had rendered her even more impetuous and violent.
It was not long before every one at Rome had heard it said that Germanicus had been poisoned by Piso, acting, so it was intimated in whispers, at the bidding of Tiberius and Livia. Piso had been the tool of Tiberius; Plancina, the tool of Livia. The accusation is absurd; it is even recognized as such by Tacitus, who was actuated by a fierce hatred against Tiberius. We know from him how the accusers of Piso recounted that the poison had been drunk in a health at a banquet to which Piso had been invited by Germanicus and at which he was seated several places from his host; he was supposed to have poured the poison into his dishes in the presence of all the guests without any one having seen him! Tacitus himself says that every one thought this an absurd fable, and such every man of good sense will think it to-day. But hatred makes even intelligent persons believe fables even more absurd; the people favorable to Germanicus were embittered against Piso and would not listen to reason. All the enemies of Tiberius easily persuaded themselves that some atrocious mystery was hidden in this death and that, if they instituted proceedings against Piso, they might bring to light a scandal which would compromise the emperor himself. They even began to repeat that Piso possessed letters from Tiberius which contained the order to poison Germanicus.
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At last Agrippina arrived at Rome with the ashes of her husband, and she began with her usual vehemence to fill the imperial house, the senate, and all Rome with protests, imprecations, and accusations against Piso. The populace, which admired her for her fidelity and love for her husband, was even more deeply stirred, and on every hand the cry was raised that an exemplary punishment ought to be meted out to so execrable a crime.
If at first Piso had treated these absurd charges with haughty disdain, he soon perceived that the danger was growing serious and that it was necessary for him to hasten his return to Rome, where a trial was now inevitable. One of Germanicus's friends had accused him; Agrippina, an unwitting tool in the hands of the emperor's enemies, every day stirred public opinion to still higher pitches of excitement through her grief and her laments; the party of Germanicus worked upon the senate and the people, and when Piso arrived at Rome he found that he had been abandoned by all. His hope lay in Tiberius, who knew the truth and who certainly desired that these wild notions be driven out of the popular mind. But Tiberius was watched with the most painstaking malevolence. Any least action in favor of Piso would have been interpreted as a decisive proof that he had been the murderer's accomplice and therefore wished to save him. In fact, it was being reported at Rome with ever-increasing insistence that at the trial Piso would show the letters of Tiberius. When the trial began, Livia, in the background, cleverly directed her thoughts to the saving of Plancina; but Tiberius could do no more for Piso than to recommend to the senate that they exercise the most rigorous impartiality. His noble speech on this occasion has been preserved for us by Tacitus. "Let them judge," he said, "without regard either for the imperial family or for the family of Piso." The admonition was useless, for his condemnation was a foregone conclusion, despite the absurdity of the charges. The enemies of Tiberius wished to force matters to the uttermost limit in the hope that the famous letters would have to be produced; and they acted with such frenzied hatred and excited public opinion to such a pitch that Piso killed himself before the end of the trial.
The violence of Agrippina had sent an innocent victim to follow the shade of her young husband. Despite bitter opposition, the emperor, through personal intervention, succeeded in saving the wife, the son, and the fortune of Piso, whose enemies had wished to exterminate his house root and branch. Tiberius thus offered a further proof that he was one of the few persons at Rome who were capable in that trying and troubled time of passing judgment and of reasoning with calm.