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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

DEATH OF AUGUSTUS

[201] WHEN Octavius took the name Augustus, he received the supreme power for a term of ten years, but at the end of this time his authority was continued for another term, and then again and again, as long as he lived. He also obtained the senate's permission to leave the title of emperor to his successor.

In reward for his victories, he enjoyed three triumphs, and one of the months of the year bore his name of Augustus,—our August. After his triumphs he closed the Temple of Janus, as we have seen, and peace reigned then through all the Roman world; but it did not last very long.

It was followed by many wars, and near the end of his career Augustus met with a great sorrow from which he never recovered. Some of the German tribes on the other side of the Rhine had risen up against the Romans. Augustus therefore sent several legions under Varus to reduce them to obedience once more.

The Germans were then under the leadership of Arminius, one of their greatest heroes. He was anxious to have them recover their former freedom; so he cleverly lured the Roman general and his troops into the Teutoburg forest. There the Germans surrounded them and killed almost every man in the Roman army.

While Arminius was rejoicing over this victory, a messenger bore the sad tidings to Rome. When Augustus heard how his brave soldiers had been slain, he was so grieved that he could not sleep. Instead, he would wander [202] through his palace at night, mournfully crying, "Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!"

Not very long after this event, Augustus became so ill that he knew he would die. He called all his friends around his bed, and asked them whether they thought he had played his part well. "If so," said he, "give me your applause."

Augustus died at the age of seventy-six, leaving the title of emperor to his stepson Tiberius. There was great sorrow in Rome when he died, and all the women wore mourning for a whole year. Temples were erected in his honor, and before long sacrifices were offered up to him as if he had been a god.

Tiberius, the stepson and successor of Augustus, was already a middle-aged man. He had received an excellent education, but was unfortunately a very bad man. As long as Augustus lived, he pretended to be very good, and instead of remaining at court withdrew for a while to the island of Rhodes, where he spent most of his time in the company of astrologers.

As you may never have heard of astrologers, you must first know that these were learned men, who gazed at the stars and planets, noticed their rising and setting, and watched their progress across the sky. These men, moreover, pretended that they could tell the future by the motions of the stars; and they earned much money by telling fortunes.

Tiberius had a high tower, rising on the top of a cliff at the edge of the sea, and here he often invited astrologers, to make them read the future in the sky. He was so clever himself that he suspected that these men were only [203] humbugs; and whenever they boasted about knowing everything, even their own future, he showed them that they were mistaken by throwing them over the cliff, so that they would fall into the sea and be drowned.

An astrologer named Thrasyllus, who had probably heard of the fate of many of his companions, was once sent for in great haste. Tiberius led him to his tower and bade him tell the future. The man gazed at the stars for some time, and finally said: "You, Tiberius, are sure to become emperor, but I  am threatened with a great danger!"

Pleased by this answer, Tiberius allowed the clever astrologer to leave the tower unharmed.


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