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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

TIBERIUS SMOTHERED

SUCH was the cruelty of Sejanus, and the tortures which he made people suffer before they died, that many killed themselves to avoid falling into his hands. The news of these cruel deeds left Tiberius quite unmoved; but his anger was at once aroused when some one finally had courage enough to tell him that Sejanus was planning to become emperor in his stead.

[209] Although he now hated Sejanus, Tiberius made believe to trust him more than ever. A messenger was sent to Sejanus with a letter full of compliments, and to the senate with one in which there was an order to put him in prison. Sejanus came up the steps of the senate house reading his letter, and every one bowed down before him as usual. But a few minutes later the scene changed.

No sooner had the senators read the emperor's order than they all fell upon Sejanus, and struck and insulted him. The people followed their example, and, when the executioner had strangled him, they tore his body to pieces, and flung the bloody remains into the Tiber.

Tiberius gave further vent to his rage by ordering the death of all the people whom he fancied to be his enemies. He gave strict orders, also, that no one should shed tears for those he had condemned. Because one poor woman wept over the execution of her son, she too was killed; and a playwright was put to death because he had written a play wherein the emperor fancied the man found fault with him.

All the Roman prisons were full; but when Tiberius heard that they would not hold another prisoner, he gave orders that they should be cleared by killing all the people in them, without waiting to have them tried. He only once expressed regret, and that was when he heard that a young man had killed himself, and had thus escaped the tortures which he had intended to inflict upon him.

A man so wicked could not be happy, and you will not be surprised to hear that Tiberius lived in constant dread of being killed. He could not sleep well, was afraid of every one, started at every sound, and fancied that everybody was as mean and cruel as himself.

[210] Eighteen years after Tiberius came to the throne, Jesus Christ was crucified at Jerusalem; and it is said that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, sent the emperor a long account of His miracles, trial, death, and resurrection. This story interested Tiberius, and he proposed to the senate that Christ should be admitted among the Roman gods, and that his statue should be placed in the Pantheon.


[Illustration]

The Pantheon.

The senators did not like to do anything which they had not suggested themselves, so they refused to do as Tiberius wished. Many years after, however, all the heathen gods ceased to be worshiped in Rome, because the people had learned to believe in the Christ whom these senators had despised.

As old age came on, Tiberius began to suffer much from ill health, and became subject to long fainting fits. While he was thus unconscious one day, the people fan- [211] cied that he was dead, and began to rejoice openly. They even proclaimed Caligula, the son of Germanicus, emperor in his stead.

In the midst of their rejoicings, they suddenly learned that Tiberius was not dead, but was slowly returning to his senses. The people were terrified, for they knew that Tiberius was so revengeful in spirit that he would soon put them all to death.

The chief of the pretorian guard, however, did not lose his presence of mind. Running into the sick emperor's room, he piled so many mattresses and pillows upon the bed that Tiberius was soon smothered.


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