The Six Caesars Of The Julian Line

We have alluded to the centralization of political power in the person of

Octavius. He simply retained all the great offices of State, and ruled,

not so much by a new title, as he did as consul, tribune, censor, pontifex

maximus, and chief of the Senate. But these offices were not at once


His reign may be said to have commenced on the final defeat of his rivals,

B.C. 29. Two years later, he received the title of Augustus, by which he

is best known in history, although he was ordinarily called Caesar. That

proud name never lost its pre-eminence.

The first part of the reign was memorable for the organization of

the State, and especially of the army; and also for the means he used to

consolidate his empire. Augustus had no son, and but one daughter,

although married three times. His first wife was Clodia, daughter of

Clodius; his second was Scribonia, sister-in-law of Sextus Pompey; and the

third was Livia Drusilla. The second wife was the mother of his daughter,

Julia. This daughter was married to M. Claudius Marcellus, son of

Marcellus and Octavia, the divorced wife of Antonius, and sister of

Octavius. M. Claudius Marcellus thus married his cousin, but died two

years afterward. It was to his honor that Augustus built the theatre of


On the death of Marcellus, Augustus married his daughter Julia to

Agrippa, his prime minister and principal lieutenant. The issue of this

marriage were three sons and two daughters. The sons died early. The

youngest daughter, Agrippina, married Germanicus, and was the mother of

the emperor Caligula. The marriage of Agrippina with Germanicus united the

lines of Julia and Livia, the two last wives of Augustus, for Germanicus

was the son of Drusus, the younger son of Livia by her first husband,

Tiberius Claudius Nero. The eldest son of Livia, by Tiberius Claudius

Nero, was the emperor Tiberius Nero, adopted by Augustus. Drusus married

Antonia, the daughter of Antonius the triumvir, and was the father, not

only of Germanicus, but of Claudius Drusus Caesar, the fifth emperor.

Another daughter of Antonius, also called Antonia, married L. Domitius

Ahenobardus, whose son married Agrippina, the mother of Nero. Thus the

descendants of Octavia and Antony became emperors, and were intertwined

with the lines of Julia and Livia. The four successors of Augustus were

all, in the male line, sprung from Livia's first husband, and all, except

Tiberius, traced their descent from the defeated triumvir. Only the first

six of the twelve Caesars had relationship with the Julian house.

I mention this genealogy to show the descent of the first six emperors

from Julia, the sister of Julius Caesar, and grandmother of Augustus.

Although the first six emperors were elected, they all belonged to the

Julian house, and were the heirs of the great Caesar.

When the government was organized, Augustus left the care of his

capital to Maecenas, his minister of civil affairs and departed for Gaul,

to restore order in that province, and build a series of fortifications to

the Danube, to check the encroachments of barbarians. The region between

the Danube and the Alps was peopled by various tribes, of different names,

who gave perpetual trouble to the Romans; but they were now apparently

subdued, and the waves of barbaric conquest were stayed for three hundred

years. Vindelicea and Rhaetia were added to the empire, in a single

campaign, by Tiberius and Drusus, the sons of Livia--the emperor's beloved

wife. Agrippa returned shortly after from a successful war in the East,

but sickened and died B.C. 12. By his death Julia was again a widow, and

was given in marriage to Tiberius, whom Augustus afterward adopted as his

successor. Drusus, his brother, remained in Gaul, to complete the

subjugation of the Celtic tribes, and to check the incursions of the

Germans, who, from that time, were the most formidable enemies of Rome.

What interest is attached to those Teutonic races who ultimately

became the conquerors of the empire! They were more warlike, persevering,

and hardy, than the Celts, who had been incorporated with the empire.

Tacitus has painted their simple manners, their passionate love of

independence, and their religious tendency of mind. They occupied those

vast plains and forests which lay between the Rhine, the Danube, the

Vistula, and the German Ocean. Under different names they invaded the

Roman world--the Suevi, the Franks, the Alemanni, the Burgundians, the

Lombards, the Goths, the Vandals; but had not, at the time of Augustus,

made those vast combinations which threatened immediate danger. They were

a pastoral people, with blue eyes, ruddy hair, and large stature, trained

to cold, to heat, to exposure, and to fatigue. Their strength lay in their

infantry, which was well armed, and their usual order of battle was in the

form of a wedge. They were accompanied even in war with their wives and

children, and their women had peculiar virtue and influence. They inspired

that reverence which never passed away from the Germanic nations,

producing in the Middle Ages the graces of chivalry. All these various

tribes had the same peculiarities, among which reverence was one of the

most marked. They were not idol worshipers, but worshiped God in the form

of the sun, moon, and stars, and in the silence of their majestic groves.

Odin was their great traditional hero, whom they made an object of

idolatry. War was their great occupation, and the chase was their

principal recreation and pleasure. Tacitus enumerates as many as fifty

tribes of these brave warriors, who feared not death, and even gloried in

their losses. The most powerful of these tribes, in the time of Augustus,

was the confederation of the Suevi, occupying half of Germany, from the

Danube to the Baltic. Of this confederation the Cauci were the most

powerful, living on the banks of the Elbe, and obtaining a precarious

living. In close connection with them were the Saxons and Longobardi

(Long-beards). On the shores of the Baltic, between the Oder and the

Vistula, were the Goths.

The arms of Caesar and Augustus had as yet been only felt by the

smaller tribes on the right bank of the Rhine, and these were assailed by

Drusus, but only to secure his flank during the greater enterprise of

sailing down the Rhine, to attack the people of the maritime plains. Great

feats were performed by this able step-son of Augustus, who advanced as

far as the Elbe, but was mortally injured by a fall from his horse. He

lingered a month, and died, to the universal regret of the Romans, for he

was the ablest general sent against the barbarians since Julius Caesar,

B.C. 9. The effect of his various campaigns was to check the inroads of

the Germans for a century. It was at this time that the banks of the Rhine

were studded by the forts which subsequently became those picturesque

towns which now command the admiration of travelers.

After the death of Drusus, to whose memory a beautiful triumphal

arch was erected, Tiberius was sent against the Germans, and after

successful warfare, at the age of forty, obtained the permission of

Augustus to retire to Rhodes, in order to improve his mind by the study of

philosophy, or, as it is supposed by many historians, from jealousy of

Caius and Lucius Caesar, the children of Julia and Agrippa--those young

princes to whom the throne of the world was apparently destined. At

Rhodes, Tiberius, now the ablest man in the empire, for both Agrippa and

Maecenas were dead, lived in simple retirement for seven years. But the

levities of Julia, to which Augustus could not be blind, compelled him to

banish her--his only daughter--to the Campanian coast, where she died

neglected and impoverished. The emperor was so indignant in view of her

disgraceful conduct, that he excluded her from any inheritance. The

premature death of her sons nearly broke the heart of their grandfather,

bereft of the wise councils and pleasant society of his great ministers,

and bending under the weight of the vast empire which he, as the heir of

Caesar, had received. The loss of his grandsons compelled the emperor to

provide for his succession, and he turned his eyes to Tiberius, his

step-son, who was then at Rhodes. He adopted him as his successor, and

invested him with the tribunitian power. But, while he selected him as his

heir, he also required him to adopt Germanicus, the son of his brother


Another great man now appeared upon the stage, L. Domitius

Ahenobardus, the son-in-law of Octavia and Antony, who was intrusted with

the war against the Germanic tribes, and who was the first Roman general

to cross the Elbe. He was the grandfather of Nero. But Tiberius was sent

to supersede him, and following the plan of his brother Drusus, he sent a

flotilla down the Rhine, with orders to ascend the Elbe, and meet his army

at an appointed rendezvous, which was then regarded as a great military

feat, in the face of such foes as the future conquerors of Rome. After

this Tiberius was occupied in reconquering the wide region between the

Adriatic and the Danube, known as Illyricum, which occupied him three

years, A.D. 7-9. In this war he was assisted by his nephew and adopted

son, Germanicus, whose brilliant career revived the hope which had centred

in Drusus.

Meanwhile Augustus, wearied with the cares of State, provoked by

the scandals which his daughter occasioned, and irritated by plots against

his life, began to relax his attention to business, and to grow morose. It

was then that he banished Ovid, whose Tristia made a greater sensation

than his immortal Metamorphoses. The disaster which befell Varus with a

Roman army, in the forest of Teutoburg, near the river Lippe, when thirty

thousand men were cut to pieces by the Germans under Arminius (Hermann),

completed the humiliation of Augustus, for, in this defeat, he must have

foreseen the future victories of the barbarians. All ideas of extending

the empire beyond the Rhine were now visionary, and that river was

henceforth to remain its boundary on the north. New levies were indeed

dispatched to the Rhine, and Tiberius and Germanicus led the forces. But

the princes returned to Rome without effecting important results.

Soon after, in the year A.D. 14, Augustus died in his

seventy-seventh year, after a reign of forty-four years from the battle of

Actium, and fifty from the triumvirate--one of the longest reigns in

history, and one of the most successful. From his nineteenth year he was

prominent on the stage of Roman public life. Under his auspices the empire

reached the Elbe, and Egypt was added to its provinces. He planted

colonies in every province, and received from the Parthians the captured

standards of Crassus. His fleets navigated the Northern Ocean; his armies

reduced the Pannonians and Illyrians. He added to the material glories of

his capital, and sought to secure peace throughout the world. He was both

munificent and magnificent, and held the reins of government with a firm

hand. He was cultivated, unostentatious, and genial; but ambitious, and

versed in all the arts of dissimulation and kingcraft. But he was a great

monarch, and ruled with signal ability. After the battle of Actium, his

wars were chiefly with the barbarians, and his greatest generals were

members of the imperial family. That he could have reigned so long, in

such an age, with so many enemies, is a proof of his wisdom and

moderation, as well as of his good fortune. That he should have triumphed

over such generals as Brutus, and Antonius, and Sextus--representing the

old parties of the republic, is unquestionable evidence of transcendent

ability. But his great merit was his capacity to rule, to organize, and to

civilize. He is one of the best types of a sovereign ruler that the world

has seen. It is nothing against him, that, in his latter years, there were

popular discontents. Such generally happen at the close of all long

reigns, as in the case of Solomon and Louis XIV. And yet, the closing

years of his reign were melancholy, like those of the French monarch, in

view of the extinction of literary glories, and the passing away of the

great lights of the age, without the appearance of new stars to take their

place. But this was not the fault of Augustus, whose intellect expanded

with his fortunes, and whose magnanimity grew with his intellect--a man who

comprehended his awful mission, and who discharged his trusts with dignity

and self-reliance.

Tiberius Caesar, the third of the Roman emperors, found no opposition to

his elevation on the death of Augustus. He ascended the throne of the

Roman world at the mature age of fifty-six, after having won great

reputation both as a statesman and a general. He was probably the most

capable man in the empire, and in spite of all his faults, the empire was

never better administered than by him. His great misfortune and fault was

the suspicion of his nature, which made him the saddest of mankind, and

finally, a monster of cruelty.

Like Augustus, he veiled his power as emperor by assuming the old

offices of the republic. A subservient Senate and people favored the

consolidation of the new despotism to which the world was now accustomed,

and with power, which it cheerfully acquiesced as the best government for

the times. The last remnant of popular elections was abolished, and the

Comitia was transferred from the Campus Martius to the Senate, who elected

the candidate proposed by the emperor.

The first year of the accession of Tiberius was marked by mutinies

in the legions, which were quelled by his nephew Germanicus, whose

popularity was boundless, even as his feats had been heroic. This young

prince, on whom the hopes of the empire rested, had married Agrippina, the

daughter of Julia and Agrippa, and traced through his mother Antonia, and

grandmother Octavia, a direct descent from Julia, the sister of the

dictator. The blood of Antony also ran in his veins, as well as that of

Livia. His wife was worthy of him, and was devotedly attached to him. By

this marriage the lines of Julia and Livia were united; and by his descent

from Antony the great parties of the revolution were silenced. He was

equally the heir of Augustus and of Antonius, of Julia and of Livia; and

of all the chiefs of Roman history no one has been painted in fairer

colors. In natural ability, in military heroism, in the virtues of the

heart, in exalted rank, he had no equal. As consul, general, and governor,

he called forth universal admiration. His mind was also highly cultivated,

and he excelled in Greek and Latin verse, while his condescending and

courteous manners won both soldiers and citizens.

Of such a man, twenty-nine years of age, Tiberius was naturally

jealous, especially since, through his wife, Germanicus was allied with

the Octavian family and through his mother, with the sister of the great

Julius; and, therefore, had higher claims than he, on the principle of

legitimacy. He was only the adopted son of Octavius, but Germanicus,

through his mother Antonia, had the same ancestry as Octavius himself.

Moreover, the cries of the legionaries, "Caesar Germanicus will not endure

to be a subject," added to the fears of the emperor, that he would be

supplanted. So he determined to send his nephew on distant and dangerous

expeditions, against those barbarians who had defeated Varus.

Germanicus, no sooner than he had quelled the sedition in his

camp, set out for Germany with eight legions and an equal number of

auxiliaries. With this large force he crossed the Rhine, revisited the

scene of the slaughter of Varus, and paid funeral honors to the remains of

the fallen Romans. But the campaigns were barren of results, although

attended with great expenses. No fortresses were erected to check the

return of the barbarians from the places where they had been dislodged,

and no roads were made to expedite future expeditions. Germanicus carried

on war in savage and barbarous tracts, amid innumerable obstacles, which

tasked his resources to the utmost. Tiberius was dissatisfied with these

results, and vented his ill-humor in murmurs against his nephew. The Roman

people were offended at this jealousy, and clamored for his recall.

Germanicus, however, embarked on a third campaign, A.D. 15, with renewed

forces, and confronted the Germans on the Weser, and crossed the river in

the face of the enemy. There the Romans obtained a great victory over

Arminius, leader of the barbaric hosts, who retreated beyond the Elbe. The

great German confederacy was, for a time, dispersed. Germanicus himself

retired to the banks of the Rhine--which became the final boundary of the

empire on the side of Germany. The hero who had persevered against

innumerable obstacles, in overcoming which the discipline and force of the

Roman legions were never more apparent, not even under Julius Caesar, was

now recalled to Rome, and a triumph was given him, amid the wildest

enthusiasm of the Roman people. The young hero was the great object of

attraction, as he was borne along in his triumphal chariot, surrounded by

the five male descendants of his union with Agrippina--his faithful and

heroic wife. Tiberius, in the name of his adopted son, bestowed three

hundred sesterces apiece upon all the citizens, and the Senate chose the

popular favorite as consul for the ensuing year, in conjunction with the

emperor himself.

Troubles in the East induced Tiberius to send Germanicus to Asia

Minor, while Drusus was sent to Illyricum. This prince was the son of

Tiberius by his first wife, Vipsania, and was the cousin of Germanicus. He

was disgraced by the vices of debauchery and cruelty, and was finally

poisoned by his wife, Livilla, at the instance of Sejanus. So long as

Germanicus lived, the court was divided between the parties of Drusus and

Germanicus, and Tiberius artfully held the balance of favor between them,

taking care not to declare which should be his successor. But Drusus was,

probably, the favorite of the emperor, although greatly inferior to the

elder prince in every noble quality. Tiberius, in sending him to

Illyricum, wished to remove him from the dissipations of the capital, and

also, to place a man in that important post who should be loyal to his


In appointing Germanicus to the chief command of the provinces

beyond the AEgean, Tiberius also gave the province of Syria to Cnaeus Piso,

of the illustrious Calpurnian house, one of the proudest and most powerful

of the Roman nobles. His wife, Plancina, was the favorite of Livia,--the

empress-mother,--and he believed himself appointed to the government of

Syria for the purpose of checking the ambitious designs which were imputed

to Germanicus, while his wife was instructed to set up herself as a rival

to Agrippina. The moment Piso quitted Italy, he began to thwart his

superior, and to bring his authority into contempt. Yet he was treated by

Germanicus with marked kindness. After visiting the famous cities of

Greece, Germanicus marched to the frontiers of Armenia to settle its

affairs with the empire--the direct object of his mission. He crowned a

prince, called Zeno, as monarch of that country, reduced Cappadocia, and

visited Egypt, apparently to examine the political affairs of the

province, but really to study its antiquities, even as Scipio had visited

Sicily in the heat of the Punic war. For thus going out of his way, he was

rebuked by the emperor. He then retraced his steps, and shaped his course

to Syria, where he found his regulations and appointments had been

overruled by Piso, between whom and himself bitter altercations ensued.

While in Syria, he fell sick and died, and his illness was attributed to

poison administered by Piso, although there was little evidence to support

the charge.

The death of Germanicus was received with great grief by the Roman

people, and the general sorrow of the Roman world, and his praises were

pronounced in every quarter. He was even fondly compared to Alexander the

Great. His character was embellished by the greatest master of pathos

among the Roman authors, and invested with a gleam of mournful splendor.

His remains were brought to Rome by his devoted wife, and the most

splendid funeral honors were accorded to him. Drusus, with the younger

brother and children of Germanicus, went forth to meet the remains, and

the consuls, the Senate, and a large concourse of people, swelled the

procession, as it neared the city. The precious ashes were deposited in

the Caesarian mausoleum, and the memory of the departed prince was

cherished in the hearts of the people. Whether he would have realized the

expectations formed of him, had he lived to succeed Tiberius, can not be

known. He, doubtless, had most amiable traits of character, while his

talents were undoubted. But he might have succumbed to the temptations

incident to the most august situation in the world, or have been borne

down by its pressing cares, or have shown less talent for administration

than men disgraced by private vices. Had Tiberius died before Augustus,

his character would have appeared in the most favorable light, for he was

a man of great abilities, and was devoted to the interests of the empire.

He became moody, suspicious, and cruel, and yielded to the pleasures so

lavishly given to the master of the world. When we remember the atmosphere

of lies in which he lived,--as is the case with all absolute monarchs,

especially in venal and corrupt times,--the unbounded temptations, the

servile and sycophantic attentions of his courtiers, the perpetual

vexations and cares incident to such overgrown and unlimited powers, and

the disgust, satiety, and contempt which his experiences engendered, we

can not wonder that his character should change for the worse. And when we

see a man rendered uninteresting and unamiable by cares, temptations, and

bursts of passion or folly, yet who still governs vigilantly and ably, our

indignation should be modified, when the lower propensities are indulged.

It is not pleasant to palliate injustices, tyrannies, and lusts. But human

nature, at the best, is weak. Of all men, absolute princes claim a

charitable judgment, and our eyes should be directed to their services,

rather than to their defects. These remarks not only pertain to Tiberius,

but to Augustus, and many other emperors who have been harshly estimated,

but whose general ability and devotion to the interests of the empire are

undoubted. How few monarchs have been free from the stains of occasional

excesses, and that arbitrary and tyrannical character which unlimited

powers develop! Even the crimes of monsters, whom we execrate, are to be

traced to madness and intoxication, more than to natural fierceness and

wickedness. But when monarchs do reign in justice, and conquer the

temptations incident to their station, like the Antonines, then our

reverence becomes profound. "Heavy is the head that wears a crown." Kings

are objects of our sympathy, as well as of our envy. Their burdens are as

heavy as their temptations are great; and frivolous or wicked princes are

almost certain to yield, like Nero or Caligula, to the evils with which

they are peculiarly surrounded.

But to return to our narrative of the leading events connected with the

reign of Tiberius, one of the ablest of all the emperors, so far as

administrative talents are concerned. After the death of Germanicus, which

was probably natural, the vengeance of the people and the court was

directed to his supposed murderer, Piso. He was arraigned and tried by the

Senate, not only for the crime of which he was accused by the family of

Germanicus, who thought himself poisoned, but for exceeding his powers as

governor of Syria, which province he continued unwisely to claim. Tiberius

abstained from all interference with the great tribunal which sat in

judgment. He even checked the flow of popular feeling. Cold and hard, he

allowed the trial to take its course, without betraying sympathy or

aversion, and acted with great impartiality. Piso found no favor from the

Senate or the emperor, and killed himself when his condemnation was


Relieved by the death of Germanicus and Piso, Tiberius began to

reign more despotically, and incurred the hatred of the people, to which

he was apparently insensible. He was greatly influenced by his mother,

Livia, an artful and ambitious princess, and by Sejanus, his favorite, a

man of rare energy and ability, who was prefect of the praetorian guards.

This office, unknown to the republic, became the most important and

influential under the emperors. The prefect was virtually the vizier, or

prime minister, since it was his care to watch over the personal safety of

a monarch whose power rested on the military. The instruments of his

government, however, were the Senate, which he controlled especially by

his power as censor, and the law of majestas, which was virtually a

great system of espionage and public accusation, which the emperor

encouraged. But his general administration was marked by prudence, equity,

and mildness. Under him the Roman dominion was greatly consolidated, and

it was his policy to guard rather than extend the limits of the empire.

The legions were stationed in those provinces which were most likely to be

assailed by external dangers, especially on the banks of the Rhine, in

Illyricum, and Dalmatia. But they were scattered in all the provinces. The

city of Rome was kept in order by the praetorian guards. Their discipline

was strenuously maintained. Governors of provinces were kept several years

in office, which policy was justified by the apologue he was accustomed to

use, founded on the same principle as that which is recognized in all

corrupt times by great administrators, whether of States, or factories, or

railroads. "A number of flies had settled on a soldier's wound, and a

compassionate passer-by was about to scare them away. The sufferer begged

him to refrain. 'These flies,' he said, 'have nearly sucked their full,

and are beginning to be tolerable; if you drive them away, they will be

immediately succeeded by fresh-comers with keener appetites.' " The

emperor saw the abuses which existed, but despaired to remedy them, since

he distrusted human nature. But there is no doubt that the government of

the provinces was improved under this prince, and the governors were made

responsible. The emperor also was assiduous to free Italy from robbers and

banditti, and in stimulating the diligence of the police, so that riots

seldom occurred, and were severely punished. There was greater security of

life and property throughout the empire, and the laws were wise and

effective. Tiberius limited the number of the gladiators, expelled the

soothsayers from Italy, and suppressed the Egyptian rites. The habits of

the people, even among the higher classes, were so generally disgraceful

and immoral,--the dissipation was so widely spread, that Tiberius despaired

to check it by sumptuary laws, but he restrained it all in his power. He

was indefatigable in his vigilance. For several years he did not quit the

din and dust of the city for a single day, and he lived with great

simplicity, apparently anxious to exhibit the ancient ideal of a Roman

statesman. He took no pleasure in the sports of the circus or theatre, and

was absorbed in the cares of office, as Augustus had been before him.

Augustus, however, was a man of genius, while he was only a man of

ability, and his great defect was jealousy of the family of Germanicus,

and the favor he lavished on Sejanus, who even demanded the hand of

Livilla, the widow of Drusus,--a suit which Tiberius rejected.

Weariness of the cares of State, and the desire of repose, at last

induced Tiberius to retire from the city. He had neither happiness nor

rest. He quarreled with Agrippina, the widow of Germanicus, and his temper

was exasperated by the imputations and slanders from which no monarch can

escape. His enemies, however, declared that he had no higher wish than to

exercise in secret the cruelty and libidinousness to which he was

abandoned. For eleven years he ruled in the retirement of his guarded

fortress, and never again re-entered the city he had left in disgust. But

in this retirement, he did not relax his vigilance in the administration

of affairs, although his government was exceedingly unpopular, and was

doubtless stained by many acts of cruelty. At Capreae, a small island near

Naples, barren and desolate, but beautiful in climate and scenery, the

master of the world spent his latter years, surrounded with literary men

and soothsayers. I do not believe the calumnies which have been heaped on

this imperial misanthrope. And yet, the eleven years he spent in his

retreat were marked by great complaints against him, and by many revolting

crimes and needless cruelties. He persecuted the family of Germanicus,

banished Agrippina, and imprisoned her son, Drusus. Sejanus, however,

instigated these proceedings, and worked upon the jealousy of the emperor.

This favorite was affianced to Livilla, the widow of Drusus, and was made

consul conjointly with Tiberius.

Tiberius penetrated, at last, the character of this ambitious

officer, and circumvented his ruin with that profound dissimulation which

was one of his most marked traits. Sejanus conspired against his life, but

the emperor shrank from openly denouncing him to the Senate. He used

consummate craft in securing his arrest and execution, the instrument of

which was Macro, an officer of his bodyguard, and his death was followed

by the ruin of his accomplices and friends.

Shortly after the execution of Sejanus, Drusus, the son of

Agrippina, was starved to death in prison, and many cruelties were

inflicted on the friends of Sejanus. Tiberius now began to show signs of

insanity, and his life henceforth was that of a miserable tyrant. His

career began to draw to a close, and he found himself, in his fits of

despair and wretchedness, supported by only three surviving members of the

lineage of Caesar: Tiberius Claudius Drusus, the last of the sons of

Drusus, and nephew of the emperor, infirm in health and weak in mind, and

had been excluded from public affairs; Caius, the younger son of

Germanicus, and Tiberius, the son of the second Drusus,--the one,

grand-nephew, and the other, grandson, of the emperor. Both were young;

one twenty-five, the other eighteen. The failing old man failed to

designate either as his successor, but the voice of the public pointed out

the son of Germanicus, nicknamed Caligula. At the age of seventy-eight,

the tyrant died, unable in his last sickness to restrain his appetite. He

died at Misenum, on his way to Capreae, which he had quitted for a time, to

the joy of the whole empire; for his reign, in his latter years, was one

of terror, which caused a deep gloom to settle upon the face of the higher

society at Rome, A.D. 37. The body was carried to Rome with great pomp,

and its ashes were deposited in the mausoleum of the Caesars. Caius was

recognized as his successor without opposition, and he commenced his reign

by issuing a general pardon to all State prisoners, and scattering, with

promiscuous munificence, the vast treasures which Tiberius had

accumulated. He assumed the collective honors of the empire with modesty,

and great expectations were formed of a peaceful and honorable reign.

Caligula was the heir of the Drusi, grandson of Julia and Agrippa,

great-grandson of Octavius, of Livia, and of Antony. In him the lines of

Julia and Livia were united. His defects and vices were unknown to the

people, and he made grand promises to the Senate. He commenced his reign

by assiduous labors, and equitable measures, and professed to restore the

golden age of Augustus. His popularity with the people was unbounded, from

his lavish expenditure for shows and festivals, by the consecration of

temples, and the distribution of corn and wine.

But it was not long before he abandoned himself to the most

extravagant debauchery. His brain reeled on the giddy eminence to which he

had been elevated without previous training and experience. Augustus

fought his own way to power, and Tiberius had spent the best years of his

life in the public service before his elevation. Yet even he, with all his

experience and ability, could not resist the blandishments of power. How,

then, could a giddy and weak young man, without redeeming qualities? He

fell into the vortex of pleasures, and reeling in the madness which

excesses caused, was soon guilty of the wildest caprices, and the most

cruel atrocities. He was corrupted by flattery as well as pleasure. He

even descended into the arena of the circus as a charioteer, and the races

became a State institution. In a few months he squandered the savings of

the previous reign, swept away the wholesome restraints which Augustus and

Tiberius had imposed upon gladiators, and carried on the sports of the

amphitheatre with utter disregard of human life. His extravagance and his

necessities led to the most wanton murders of senators and nobles whose

crime was their wealth. The most redeeming features of the first year of

his reign were his grief at the death of his sister, his friendship with

Herod Agrippa, to whom he gave a sovereignty in Palestine, and the

activity he displayed in the management of his vast inheritance. He had a

great passion for building, and completed the temple of Augustus,

projected the grandest of the Roman aqueducts, enlarged the imperial

palace, and carried a viaduct from the Palatine to the Capitoline over the

lofty houses of the Velabrum. But his prodigalities led to a most

oppressive taxation, which soon alienated the people, while his senseless

debaucheries, especially his costly banquets, disgusted the more

contemplative of the nobles. He was also disgraced by needless cruelties,

and it was his exclamation: "Would that the people of Rome had but one

neck!" His vanity was preposterous. He fancied himself divine, and

insisted on divine honors being rendered to him. He systematically

persecuted the nobles, and exacted contributions. He fancied himself, at

one time an orator, and at another a general; and absolutely led an army

to the Rhine, when there was no enemy to attack. He married several wives,

but divorced them with the most fickle inconstancy.

It is needless to repeat the wanton follies of this young man who

so outrageously disgraced the imperial station. The most charitable

construction to be placed upon acts which made his name infamous among the

ancients is that his brain was turned by his elevation to a dignity for

which he was not trained or disciplined--that unbounded power, united with

the most extravagant abandonment to sensual pleasures, undermined his

intellect. His caprices and extravagance can only be explained by partial

madness. He had reigned but four years, and all expectations of good

government were dispelled. The majesty of the empire was insulted, and

assassination, the only way by which he could be removed, freed the world

from a madman, if not a monster.

There was great confusion after the assassination of Caius Caesar, and

ill-concerted efforts to recover a freedom which had fled forever, ending,

as was to be expected, by military power. The consuls convened the Senate

for deliberation (for the forms of the republic were still kept up), but

no settled principles prevailed. Various forms of government were proposed

and rejected. While the Senate deliberated, the praetorian guards acted.

Among the inmates of the palace, in that hour of fear, among

slaves and freed men, half hidden behind a curtain in an obscure corner,

was a timid old man, who was dragged forth with brutal violence. He was no

less a personage than Claudius, the neglected uncle of the emperor, the

son of Drusus and Antonia, and nephew of Tiberius, and brother of

Germanicus. Instead of slaying the old man, the soldiers, respecting the

family of Caesar, hailed him, partly in jest, as imperator, and carried him

to their camp. Claudius, heretofore thought to be imbecile, and therefore

despised, was not unwilling to accept the dignity, and promised the

praetorians, if they would swear allegiance to him, a donation of fifteen

thousand sesterces apiece. The Senate, at the dictation of the praetorians,

accepted Claudius as emperor.

He commenced his reign, A.D. 41, by proclaiming a general amnesty.

He restored confiscated estates, recalled the wretched sisters of Caius,

sent back to Greece and Asia the plundered statues of temples which Caius

had transported to Rome, and inaugurated a regime of moderation and

justice. His life had been one of sickness, neglect, and obscurity, but he

was suffered to live because he was harmless. His mother was ashamed of

him, and his grandmother, Livia, despised him, and his sister, Livilla,

ridiculed him. He was withheld from public life, and he devoted himself to

literary pursuits, and even wrote a history of Roman affairs from the

battle of Actium, but it gained him no consideration. Tiberius treated him

with contumely, and his friends deserted him. All this neglect and

contempt were the effects of a weak constitution, a paralytic gait, and an

imperfect utterance.

Claudius took Augustus as his model, and at once a great change in

the administration was observable. There was a renewed activity of the

armies on the frontiers, and great generals arose who were destined to be

future emperors. The colonies were strengthened and protected, and foreign

affairs were conducted with ability. Herod Agrippa, the favorite of Caius,

was confirmed in his government of Galilee, and received in addition the

dominions of Samaria and Judaea. Antiochus was restored to the throne of

Commagene, and Mithridates received a district of Cilicia. The members of

the Senate were made responsible for the discharge of their magistracies,

and vacancies to this still august body were filled up from the wealthy

and powerful families. He opened an honorable career to the Gauls, revised

the lists of the knights, and took an accurate census of Roman citizens.

He conserved the national religion, and regulated holidays and festivals.

His industry and patience were unwearied, and the administration of

justice extorted universal admiration. His person was accessible to all

petitioners, and he relieved distress wherever he found it. He

relinquished the most grievous exactions of his predecessors, and tenderly

guarded neglected slaves. He also constructed great architectural works,

especially those of utility, completed the vast aqueduct which Caius

commenced, and provided the city with provisions. He built the port of

Ostia, to facilitate commerce, and drained marshes and lakes. The draining

of the Lake Fucinus occupied thirty thousand men for eleven years. While

he executed vast engineering works to supply the city with water, he also

amused the people with gladiatorial shows. In all things he showed the

force of the old Roman character, in spite of bodily feebleness.

The most memorable act of his administration was the conquest of

South Britain. By birth a Gaul, being born at Lugdunum, he cast his eyes

across the British channel and resolved to secure the island beyond as the

extreme frontier of his dominions, then under the dominion of the Druids--a

body of Celtic priests whom the Romans ever detested, and whose rites all

preceding emperors had proscribed. Julius Caesar had pretended to impose a

tribute on the chiefs of Southern Britain, but it was never exacted. Both

Augustus and Tiberius felt but little interest in the political affairs of

that distant island, but the rapid progress of civilization in Gaul, and

the growing cities on the banks of the Rhine, elicited a spirit of

friendly intercourse. Londinium, a city which escaped the notice of Caesar,

was a great emporium of trade in the time of Claudius. But the southern

chieftains were hostile, and jealous of their independence. So Claudius

sent four legions to Britain, under Plautius, and his lieutenant,

Vespasianus, to oppose the forces under Caractacus. He even entered

Britain in person, and subdued the Trinobantes. But for nine years

Caractacus maintained an independent position. He was finally overthrown

in battle, and betrayed to the Romans, and exhibited at Rome. The

insurrection was suppressed, or rather, a foothold was secured in the

island, which continued henceforth under the Roman rule.

The feeble old man, always nursed by women, had the misfortune to

marry, for his third wife, the most infamous woman in Roman annals

(Valeria Messalina), under whose influence the reign, at first beneficent,

became disgraceful. Claudius was entirely ruled by her. She amassed

fortunes, sold offices, confiscated estates, and indulged in guilty loves.

She ruled like a Madame de Pompadour, and degraded the throne which she

ought to have exalted. The influence of women generally was bad in those

corrupt times, but her influence was scandalous and degrading.

Claudius also was governed by his favorites, generally men of low

birth--freedmen who usurped the place of statesmen. Narcissus and Pallus

were the most confidential of the emperor's advisers, who, in consequence,

became enormously rich, for favors flowed through them, and received the

great offices of State. The court became a scene of cabals and crimes,

disgraced by the wanton shamelessness of the empress and the venality of

courtiers. Appius Silanus, one of the best and greatest of the nobles, was

murdered through the intrigues of Messalina, to whose progress in

wickedness history furnishes no parallel, and Valerius Asiaticus, another

great noble, also suffered the penalty of offending her, and was

destroyed; and his magnificent gardens, which she coveted, were bestowed

upon her.

But Messalina was rivaled in iniquity by another princess, between

whom and herself there existed the deadliest animosity. Thus was

Agrippina, the daughter of Germanicus, who had been married to Cn.

Domitius Ahenobardus, grandson of Octavia, and whose issue was the future

emperor Nero. The niece of Claudius occupied the second place in the

imperial household, and it became her aim to poison the mind of her uncle

against the woman she detested, and who returned her hatred. She now

leagued with the freedmen of the palace to destroy her rival. An

opportunity to gratify her vengeance soon occurred. Messalina, according

to Tacitus, was guilty of the inconceivable madness of marrying Silanus,

one of her paramours, while her husband lived, and that husband an

emperor, which story can not be believed without also supposing that

Claudius was a perfect idiot. Such a defiance of law, of religion, and of

the feelings of mankind, to say nothing of its folly, is not to be

supposed. Yet such was the scandal, and it filled the imperial household

with consternation. Callistus, Pallas, and Narcissus--the favorites who

ruled Claudius--united with Agrippina to secure her ruin. The emperor, then

absent in Ostia, was informed of the shamelessness of his wife. It was

difficult for him to believe such a fact, but it was attested by the

trusted members of his household. His fears were excited, as well as his

indignation, and he hastened to Rome for vengeance and punishment.

Messalina had retired to her magnificent gardens on the Pineian, which had

once belonged to Lucullus, the price of the blood of the murdered

Asiaticus; but, on the approach of the emperor, of which she was informed,

she advanced boldly to confront him, with every appearance of misery and

distress, with her children Britannicus and Octavia. Claudius vacillated,

and Messalina retired to her gardens, hoping to convince her husband of

her innocence on the interview which he promised the following day. But

Narcissus, knowing her influence, caused her to be assassinated, and the

emperor drowned his grief, or affection, or anger, in wine and music, and

seemingly forgot her. That Messalina was a wicked and abandoned woman is

most probable; that she was as bad as history represents her, may be

doubted, especially when we remember she was calumniated by a rival, who

succeeded in taking her place as wife. It is easier to believe she was the

victim of Agrippina and the freedmen, who feared as well as hated her,

than to accept the authority of Tacitus and Juvenal. On the death of

Messalina, Agrippina married her uncle, and the Senate sanctioned the

union, which was incest by the Roman laws.

The fourth wife of the emperor transcended the third in intrigue

and ambition, and her marriage, at the age of thirty-three, was soon

followed by the betrothal of her son, L. Domitius, a boy of twelve, with

Octavia, the daughter of Claudius and Messalina. He was adopted by the

emperor, and assumed the name of Nero. Henceforth she labored for the

advancement of her son only. She courted the army and the favor of the

people, and founded the city on the Rhine which we call Cologne. But she

outraged the notions and sentiments of the people more by her unfeminine

usurpation of public honors, than by her cruelty or her dissoluteness. She

seated herself by the side of the emperor in military festivals. She sat

by him at a sea-fight on the Lucrine Lake, clothed in a soldier's cloak.

She took her station in front of the Roman standard, when Caractacus, the

conquered British chief, was brought in chains to the emperor's tribunal.

She caused the dismissal of the imperial officers who incurred her

displeasure. She exercised a paramount sway over her husband, and

virtually ruled the empire. She distracted the palace with discords,

cabals, and jealousies.

How the bad influence of these women over the mind of Claudius can be

reconciled with the vigilance, and the labors, and the beneficent measures

of the emperor, as generally admitted, history does not narrate. But it

was during the ascendency of both Messalina and Agrippina, that Claudius

presided at the tribunals of justice with zeal and intelligence, that he

interested himself in works of great public utility, and that he carried

on successful war in Britain.

In the year A.D. 54, and in the fourteenth of his reign, Claudius,

exhausted by the affairs of State, and also, it is said, by intemperance,

fell sick at Rome, and sought the medicinal waters of Sinuessa. It was

there that Agrippina contrived to poison him, by the aid of Locusta, a

professed poisoner, and Xenophon, a physician, while she affected an

excess of grief. She held his son Britannicus in her arms, and detained

him and his sisters in the palace, while every preparation was made to

secure the accession of her own son, Nero. She was probably prompted to

this act from fear that she would be supplanted and punished, for Claudius

had said, when wine had unloosed his secret thoughts, "that it was his

fate to suffer the crimes of his wives, but at last to punish them." She

also was eager to elevate her own son to the throne, which, of right,

belonged to Britannicus, and whose rights might have been subsequently

acknowledged by the emperor, for his eyes could not be much longer blinded

to the character of his wife.

Claudius must not be classed with either wicked or imbecile

princes, in spite of his bodily infirmities, or the slanders with which

his name is associated. It is probable he indulged to excess in the

pleasures of the table, like the generality of Roman nobles, but we are to

remember that he ever sought to imitate Augustus in his wisest measures;

that he ever respected letters when literature was falling into contempt;

that his administration was vigorous and successful, fertile in victories

and generals; that he exceeded all his ministers in assiduous labors, and

that he partially restored the dignity and authority of the Senate. His

great weakness was in being ruled by favorites and women; but his

favorites were men of ability, and his women were his wives.

Nero, the son of Agrippina and Cn. Domitius Ahenobardus, by the

assistance of the praetorian guards, was now proclaimed imperator, A.D. 54,

directly descended, both on his paternal and maternal side, from Antonia

Major, the granddaughter of Antony and Domitius Ahenobardus. Through

Octavia, his grandmother, he traced his descent from the family of Caesar.

The Domitii--the paternal ancestors of Nero--had been illustrious for

several hundred years, and no one was more distinguished than Lucius

Domitius, called Ahenobardus, or Red-Beard, in the early days of the

republic. The father of Nero, who married Agrippina, was as infamous for

crimes as he was exalted for rank. But he died when his son Nero was three

years of age. He was left to the care of his father's sister, Domitia

Lepida, the mother of Messalina, and was by her neglected. His first

tutors were a dancer and a barber. On the return of his mother from exile

his education was more in accordance with his rank, as a prince of the

blood, though not in the line of succession. He was docile and

affectionate as a child, and was intrusted to the care of Seneca, by whom

he was taught rhetoric and moral philosophy, and who connived at his taste

for singing, piping, and dancing, the only accomplishments of which, as

emperor, he was afterward proud. He was surrounded with perils, in so

wicked an age, as were other nobles, and, by his adoption, was admitted a

member of the imperial family--the sacred stock of the Claudii and Julii.

He was under the influence of his mother--the woman who subverted

Messalina, and murdered Claudius,--who used every art and intrigue to

secure his accession.

When he mounted the throne of the Caesars, he gave promise of a

benignant reign. His first speech to the Senate made a good impression,

and his first acts were beneficent. But he ruled only through his mother,

who aspired to play the empress, a woman who gave answers to ambassadors,

and sent dispatches to foreign courts. Burrhus, the prefect of the

imperial guard, and Seneca, tutor and minister, through whose aid the

claims of Nero had been preferred over those of Britannicus, the son of

the late emperor, opposed her usurpations, and attempted to counteract her


The early promises of Nero were not fulfilled. He soon gave vent

to every vice, which was disguised by his ministers. One of the first acts

was to disgrace the freedman, Pallas,--the prime minister of Claudius,--and

to destroy Britannicus by poison, which crimes were palliated, if not

suggested, by Seneca.

The influence which Seneca and Burrhus had over the young emperor,

who screened his vices from the eyes of the people and Senate, necessarily

led to a division between Nero and Agrippina. He withdrew her guard of

honor, and paid her only formal visits, which conduct led to the desertion

of her friends, and the open hostility of her enemies. The wretched woman

defended herself against the charges they brought, with spirit, and for a

time she escaped. The influence of Seneca, at this period, was paramount,

and was exerted for the good of the empire, so that the Senate acquiesced

in the public measures of Nero, and no notice was taken of his private

irregularities. The empress mother apparently yielded to the ascendency of

the ministers, and provoked no further trial of strength.

Thus five years passed, until Nero was twenty-two, when Poppaea

Sabina, the fairest woman of her time, appeared upon the stage. Among the

dissolute women of imperial Rome, she was pre-eminent. Introduced to the

intimacy of Nero, she aspired to still higher elevation, and this was

favored by the detestation with which Agrippina was generally viewed, and

the continued decline of her influence, since she had ruled by fear rather

than love. Poppaea was now found intriguing against her, and induced Nero

to murder his own mother, to whose arts and wickedness he owed his own

elevation. The murder was effected in her villa, on the Lucrine Lake,

under circumstances of utter brutality. Nero came to examine her mangled

body, and coolly praised the beauty of her form. Nor were her ashes even

placed in the mausoleum of Augustus. This wicked Jezebel, who had poisoned

her husband, and was accused of every crime revolting to our nature, paid

the penalty of her varied infamies, and her name has descended to all

subsequent ages as the worst woman of antiquity.

With the murder of Agrippina, the madness and atrocities of Nero

gained new force. He now appears as a monster, and was only tolerated for

the amusements with which he appeased the Roman people. He disgraced the

imperial dignity by descending upon the stage, which was always infamous;

he instituted demoralizing games; he was utterly insensible to national

sentiments and feelings; he exceeded all his predecessors in extravagance

and follies; he was suspected of poisoning Burrhus, by whom he was

advanced to power; he executed men of the highest rank, whose crime was

their riches; he destroyed the members of the imperial family; he murdered

Doryphorus and Pallas, because they were averse to his marriage with

Poppaea; he drove his chariot in the Circus Maximus, pleased with the

acclamations of two hundred thousand spectators; he gave banquets in which

the utmost excesses of bacchanalian debauchery were openly displayed; he

is said to have kindled the conflagration of his own capital; he levied

oppressive taxes to build his golden palace, and support his varied

extravagance; he even destroyed his tutor and minister, Seneca, that he

might be free from his expostulations, and take possession of the vast

fortune which this philosopher had accumulated in his service; and he

finally kicked his wife so savagely that she died from the violence he

inflicted. If it were possible to add to his enormities, his persecution

of the Christians swelled the measure of his infamies--the first to which

they had been subjected in Rome, and in which Paul himself was a victim.

But his government was supported by the cruelty and voluptuousness of the

age, and which has never been painted in more vivid colors than by St.

Paul himself. The corrupt morality of the age tolerated all these crimes,

and excesses, and follies--an age which saw no great writers except Seneca,

Lucan, Perseus, and Martial, two of whom were murdered by the emperor.

But the hour of retribution was at hand. The provinces were

discontented, and the city filled with cabals and conspiracies. Though one

of them, instigated by Piso, was unsuccessful, and its authors punished, a

revolt in Gaul, headed by Galba--an old veteran of seventy-two, and

assisted by Vindex and Virginius, was fatal to Nero. The Senate and the

praetorian guards favored the revolution. The emperor was no longer safe in

his capital. Terrified by dreams, and stung by desertion, the wretched

tyrant fled to the Servilian Gardens, and from thence to the villa of one

of his freedmen, near which he committed suicide, at the age of

thirty-six, and in the fourteenth year of his inglorious reign, during

which there are scarcely other events to chronicle than his own personal

infamies. "In him perished the last scion of the stock of the Julii,

refreshed in vain by grafts from the Octavii, the Claudii, and the

Domitii." Though the first of the emperors had married four wives, the

second three, the third two, the fourth three, the fifth six, and the

sixth three, yet Nero was the last of the Caesars. None of the five

successors of Julius were truly his natural heirs. They trace their

lineage to his sister Julia, but the three last had in their veins the

blood of Antony as well as Octavia, and thus the descendants of the

triumvir reigned at Rome as well as those of his rival Octavius. We have

only to remark that it is strange that the Julian line should have been

extinguished in the sixth generation, with so many marriages.

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