THE RISE AND FALL OF SEJANUS
HE rise and fall of Sejanus," says Tacitus in one of
his most characteristic sentences, "were equally
disastrous to the commonwealth of Rome." The country
was peaceful before the days of his power; he desolated
it with proscription and massacre. The Imperial
family was prosperous; he made it by his intrigues like
one of the doomed houses of tragedy. And then, when he
was crushed by the master whom he had deceived, and
Rome was rejoicing to be rid of him, she found herself
the victim of a worse tyranny than ever. When Sejanus
had fallen, Tiberius, perhaps because he had lost all
faith in his fellow-men, became more cruel, more
abandoned than before.
Sejanus was a Tuscan by birth. He obtained in his youth
a commission in the Praetorian
 Guard, and rose from post to post till he became
chief-in-command, first as his father's colleague and
then alone. It was he who made the Praetorians the
formidable force that many a time in after years gave
the Empire at its will. He collected its scattered
regiments into one corps, and gave it a camp
outside the walls. He spared no pains to make himself
the idol of the troops, not only in Rome, but in the
provinces, and he succeeded so well, that his bust was
commonly placed beside the Emperor's at headquarters to
be common objects of veneration.
His ambition now began to soar higher, to an alliance
with the throne, even to the throne itself. The
alliance came within his grasp, and then was snatched
away again by what must have seemed a trick of fortune.
His daughter was betrothed to the young son of
Claudius, the Emperor's nephew. But the boy met his
death at Pompeii by a curious accident. He was amusing
himself by throwing a pear into air and catching it in
his mouth. The fruit fixed itself in his throat, and
choked him. But this disappointment was soon forgotten
in the excitement of greater schemes. Drusus, the
Emperor's son, was a personal enemy. There had been an
 between them, and the young prince, who was violent in
temper and somewhat brutal in manner, had struck the
powerful minister in the face. The insult was terribly
avenged. Sejanus won away the affections of Livia,
Drusus's wife, and then persuaded the wretched woman to
poison her husband. The crime was committed, and for a
time remained undiscovered. One obstacle was removed
from the path of his ambition. As soon as etiquette
permitted he made another step. He asked for the hand
of the widow. The Emperor's answer was vague, but, on
the whole, favourable. He pointed out the difficulties
of the case, but declared that there was nothing which
the high qualities and loyalty of Sejanus might not be
held to deserve.
One difficulty, the deposition of Agrippina, was soon
removed. Her temper, naturally haughty, had been
embittered by wrongs of the cruellest kind. She gave
mortal offence to the Emperor, on one occasion, we are
told, by showing that she feared to be poisoned at his
table. It was Sejanus who had warned her of the danger.
Not long afterwards she was banished to an island, and
her banishment was soon followed by her death. Nero,
her eldest son, shared her fate; and Drusus, who was
next to him in age, was kept in close and rigorous
confinement at Rome.
Sejanus was now, so to speak, Vice-Emperor.
 Tiberius had buried himself in his island retreat (of
which I shall say more in my next chapter) and his
Minister was the visible representative of power. His
ante-chambers were crowded from morning to night. The
acquaintance of his freedmen and his doorkeepers was
eagerly sought. The favour of the great man himself was
counted a sure passport to power and wealth.
Then in a moment came the fall of this daring ambition.
Tiberius satisfied himself—he had been first warned, it
is said, by a letter from a kinswoman—that the man whom
he had trusted, on whom he had heaped such honours as
had never before been bestowed upon a subject, was
preparing to overthrow him. The favourite was, or
seemed to be, too powerful to be openly attacked.
Possibly, Tiberius found a secret satisfaction in
flattering and fooling him to the last. Nor can we feel
a grain of pity for the man who was so basely
ungrateful even to such a benefactor as Tiberius.
The Emperor, who had for many years refused to accept
the dignity of the Consulship,
allowed himself to be nominated again, and he made
Sejanus his colleague. At the same time he gave him one
of the high priesthoods. But meanwhile he had secured
 an instrument of his vengeance in one Macro, who held
high command in the Praetorian Guard. He sent a letter
to the Senate, accusing the favourite of treason. The
reading of it was followed by a burst of applause; and
Macro was at hand with his soldiers to arrest the
accused. His fall was absolute and instantaneous. Not a
voice, much less a hand, was raised in his defence.
Scarcely the mockery of a trial was allowed him, before
he was hurried off to his death. His statues, which had
been erected in every quarter of the city, were thrown
down from their pedestals, and, such was the popular
fury against him, almost ground into powder.
Tiberius had schemes in reserve if his enemy should be
found to have any following. The young Drusus was to be
taken out of his dungeon, and shown to the troops and
the populace as their new chief. He kept ships in
readiness, in which to transport himself to some
distant province, if his island retreat should become
unsafe. Notwithstanding these precautions, he waited
for the issue in intense anxiety, standing on the
loftiest peak of the island, and watching for the
preconcerted signals from the mainland, which were to
show him what had happened. And, after all was over, it
was nine months before he ventured to leave the house
in which he had concealed himself.
Meanwhile a reign of terror prevailed at Rome.
 I dare not tell the piteous story of how even the
innocent children of the fallen man, a boy and a girl
were carried off to the scaffold. That all who were
even distantly suspected of sharing his schemes should
be involved in his doom was to be expected, but the
crowd of flatterers who had courted him, because he had
the ear of Caesar, were in sore perplexity. To
acknowledge his acquaintance was enough, and yet it
seemed impossible to deny it. It is a pleasure to read
the courageous words in which one of the accused
defended himself. "Whatever may happen," he said, "I
will confess that I had the friendship of Sejanus, that
I sought it, that I was glad to win it. I and others
saw that his friends were the favourites of Caesar, that
his enemies were miserable and degraded. To us he was
longer; he was a kinsman of the Imperial House, Caesar's
colleague and friend, who made and unmade men at his
pleasure. Who were we that we should go behind the
Emperor's judgment and hesitate to believe in the man
whom he trusted? Punish, Sire, his accomplices in
crime, but excuse his friends, as you excuse yourself."
These bold words saved the speaker and, we may hope,
some of his friends.
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