Frank Frost Abbott.

A history and description of Roman political institutions online

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Augustus receives title of pater patriae (2 B.C.): Suet. Aug. 58. —
Lucius and Gaius Caesar receive title of princeps iuventutis (2 b.c):
Res gest. III. 4-6 and pp. 52-8. — Tiberius returns from voluntary
exile (a.d. 2) : Veil. II. 103. i ; Suet. Tib. 13. — Augustus's charge
of armies and provinces renewed for ten years (a.d. 3) : Dio, LV. 1 2. —
C. Caesar dies (a.d. 4) : C. I. L. XI. 1421 (cf. Clinton, Fast. Hell.
III. p. 264). — Augustus adopts Tiberius (a.d. 4): Veil. II. 103;
Dio, LV. 13; Tac. Atin. I. 3, 10 ; IV. 57.— Tiberius receives tribu-
nician power for ten years (a.d. 4) : Dio, LV. 13; Veil. II. 103.—
Army reforms (a.d. 5): Dio, LV. 23; Tac. A7i7i. I. 17. — Praefectus
vigilum (a.d. 6): Dio, LV. 26. — Tax on sale of slaves (a.d. 7) :
Dio, LV. 31. — Modification of the commendatio (a.d. 8) : Dio,
LV. 34. — Defeat of Varus (a.d. 9?): Veil. II. 117-120; Dio,
LVI. 18 ff. ; Suet. Aug. zi;-: Tib. 17. — Lex Papia Poppaea



288 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

(a.d. 9); Dio, LVI. 10. — Augustus receives armies and provinces
for ten years (a.d. 13): Dio, LVI. 28. — Tiberius receives tribuni-
cian power for indefinite period (a.d. 13) : Dio, LVI. 28. — Legislative
committee with powers (a.d. 13): Dio, LVI. 28. — Augustus dies
(a.d. 14) : Dio, LVI. 29 f. ; Suet. Atig. 99-100 ; Tac. Ann. I. 5.

Selected Bibliography

A. The Empire in General

L. de Tillemont, Histoire des empereurs, etc., 5 vols. Venice, 1732.
Ch. Merivale, History of the Romans under the Empire, 7 vols. New

York, 1862.
H. Schiller, Geschichte der romischen Kaiserzeit, 2 vols. Gotha,

1882-7.
Edw. Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman

Empire, revised by J. B. Bury. London, 1900.
L. Friedlander, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, etc.,

3 vols., 6th ed. Leipzig, 18S8.
Th. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, 2 vols. New

York, 18S6.
Th. Mommsen, Romisches Staatsrecht (Vol. II). Leipzig, 1887.
H. Peter, Die geschichtliche Litteratur iiber die romische Kaiserzeit,

etc., 2 vols. Leipzig, 1897.
G. Goyau, Chronologie de I'empire romain. Paris, 1891.
Prosopographia imperii romani saec. I, II, III, 3 parts. Berlin,

1 897-.

B. The Reign of Augustus

V. Gardthausen, Augustus und seine Zeit (I. i, 2 ; II. i, 2). Leipzig,

1 89 1 -6.
W. W. Capes, The Early Roman Empire. London, 1876. ,



CHAPTER XIII

FROM TIBERIUS TO NERO

' 346. Tiberius becomes Emperor. AMth the death of
Augustus the principate legally came to an end. He had
made Tiberius his associate in the government (cf. p. 273),
but he could not confer upon him nor bequeath to him
his powers as princeps. Tiberius was placed in such a
preeminent position, however, that it was difficult to thwart
his ambition, and he understood how to make good use of
his opportunity. He felt that the support of the army was
the essential thing, and that the acquiescence of the senate
and people would follow as a matter of course. He at
once, therefore, assumed charge of the praetorian guard,
and had the armies take the oath of allegiance. Their
example was quickly followed by the magistrates and the
senate. This method of procedure forestalled any possible
opposition. In fact, when the senate met to confer on him
the powers of his predecessor, Tiberius was able to make his
acceptance of them appear a concession to its entreaties.

347. The two Periods of his Reign. The change which
took place in the character of Tiberius under the influence
of L. Aelius Sejanus is well known. The same influence
brought about a marked change in the character of his
government also. Sejanus became prefect of the praetorian
guard in the year 16, and greatly strengthened his influence
seven years later by bringing all the sections of that force
together into one station. However, even this exceptional
position did not count for so much as did the perfect

289



290 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

confidence which Tiberius placed in him, and the fact that
Sejanus became his sole confidant. It is unnecessary for
our purpose to estimate the character of Tiberius, which
assumes such different aspects in the historical works of
Tacitus and Velleius Paterculus. Each account probably
presents one side of the truth. In the same way the period
before Sejanus acquired his influence over Tiberius, and the
subsequent period, reflect respectively the good and the
evil elements in the character of the emperor. When he
ascended the throne there was much to inspire the Romans
with confidence in his wisdom and justice. He was a man
of affairs ; he was simple in his personal tastes ; he had a
respect for tradition and a peculiar reverence for the policy
of his predecessor. Furthermore, he had a wide knowledge
of the condition of the empire, acquired by numerous cam-
paigns and by years of residence in the provinces, and the
early years of his reign seemed to justify the hope which
the possession of these qualities held out. But with the
ascendency of Sejanus, and the retirement of Tiberius from
Rome in the year 26, the aspect of things changed. The
results of the baneful influence of Sejanus were aggravated
by the death in a.d. 19 of Germanicus, the nephew of
Tiberius, and, in the year 23, of Drusus, his son. Both of
these young men enjoyed a popularity, perhaps undeserved,
which made it important for the emperor to keep the good-
will of the people. With their death this incentive dis-
appeared. The death of these two men also stimulated
the ambitious designs of Agrippina, the widow of Ger-
manicus, in behalf of her sons, and Tiberius had some
reason to fear cabals among the senators in their behalf.
The two weapons which he used against these senators,
and against others whom he suspected of ambitious designs,
were the processes de maiestate and de repettmdis.



TIBERIUS TO NERO 291

348. Trials for Treason and Misgovernment. The con-
ception of ffii/mta maicstas was a development o{ pcrduellio,
and in the late republic covered such offenses as attacks
on the freedom and sovereignty of the people or the safety
of the state, and neglect of important official duties. The
change involved in the actions brought during the second
part of Tiberius's reign lay in the substitution of the maie-
stas principis for the maiestas populi. Any acts which were
interpreted as prejudicial to the emperor's welfare or dig-
nity made the person committing them liable to the charge
of viinuta maiestas. Trivial charges also were taken into
consideration ; the ordinary rules governing criminal pro-
cedure were not observed, and the severity of the penalties
imposed was out of proportion to the offenses committed.

The equitable treatment of the provinces is one of the
things which may be set down to the credit of Tiberius.
The most effective means which he found to hold provin-
cial governors to their duty was the institution of actions
de repetundis against them ; but it w^as very difficult for a
governor in the performance of duties which required the
exercise of discretion not to lay himself open to a technical
charge on this score. The evil features of the situation were
aggravated by the machinations of professional informers,
and by the fact that trials on both the above-mentioned
charges were held before the senate. Tiberius himself
would have hesitated to condemn on his own responsibility
men for whose condemnation this servile body, with its
divided responsibility and its dread of the emperor, cast
its vote.

349. Constitutional and Administrative Changes. The
most important constitutional change made by Tiberius
was the transfer of the elections from the people to the
senate. Henceforth the popular assembUes met in their



292 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

electoral capacity only to hear an announcement of the
results of the elections in the senate. The change was
essentially only a formal one, since popular elections had
already lost their significance. This method of choosing
magistrates was in some respects a reversion to the system
in vogue under the monarchy (cf. p. 14), and, since ex-mag-
istrates were given seats in the senate, that body, nomi-
nally at least, chose its own members. It should be noticed,
too, that the new functions which Tiberius and his prede-
cessor assigned to the senate made it not only a legisla-
tive but also a judicial and an electoral body. The most
im])ortant changes in the magistracies consisted in making
the pracfedus iirhi a permanent official, and in putting
a single prefect at the head of the praetorian cohorts,
although some of the successors of Tiberius reverted to
the Augustan system and appointed two praefecti praetorio.
Some temporary importance was also given to the consul's
office by the prolonged absence of Tiberius from the city.
350. The Reign of Gaius. Upon the death of Tiberius
in A.D. 37 Gaius Caesar, the son of Germanicus, the adopted
son of Tiberius, who was supported by Macro, the praeto-
rian prefect, was proclaimed emperor by the senate. The
first measures of Gaius seemed to indicate that the enthu-
siasm with which the death of Tiberius and the accession
of a son of the popular leader Germanicus were greeted
was justified. Actions for maicstas were suspended. Pro-
fessional informers were suppressed, and the elections were
turned over to the popular assemblies again ; but in each
one of these cases Gaius returned in a very short time to
the practices of Tiberius. Throughout his reign, in fact,
he was the creature of caprice, the victim of megalomania,
and represented absolutism in its crudest form. In an in-
credibly short time he had spent upon extravagant projects



TIBERIUS TO NERO 293

of all sorts the sum of 100,000,000 sesterces, which his
economical predecessor had saved, and proceeded to meet
the resulting deficit by confiscation and oppressive taxation.
The only constitutional change of any importance made
during his reign was the addition of a fifth decury of
jurymen, which brought the number of indices up to about
5000. The wrath of the people groaning under this tyran-
nous government found expression in one conspiracy after
another, until finally in the year 41 Gains was murdered
by the officers of his own guard.

351. The Reign of Claudius. By his death the govern-
ment was left without a head once more, and for two
days the senate considered the advisability of restoring the
republic ; but the clamor of the populace and the interven-
tion of the soldiers decided the matter in favor of Claudius,
the nephew of Tiberius and uncle of Gaius. Claudius had
lived up to this time in retirement. In fact, the soldiers
found him hiding in the palace for fear of his life. A natu-
ral weakness of character and bodily defects had kept him
out of public life, and the contempt of those about him,
and the ill-treatment which he had received at their hands,
had made him distrustful of himself. His life had been
given up largely to antiquarian pursuits. These facts deter-
mined in large measure the character of his reign. His lack
of self-confidence made him lean helplessly on others, while
the interest which he had felt in the minutiae of gram-
matical study incapacitated him for developing compre-
hensive plans of government. As a result he was easily
managed by the members of his household, and the inner
history of his reign is a continuous story of intrigue by the
women and the freedmen about him, first by his freed-
man Narcissus and his wife Messalina, and, after her death,
by Narcissus and his second wife Agrippina, with the



294 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

support of Pallas, and of Biirrus, whom she had elevated
to the position of prefect of the praetorian guard. This
transfer of the real authority to men who were virtually
imperial ministers — for this was what the new system really
amounted to — had its advantages as well as its disadvan-
tages. Narcissus in particular, who played so important
a role during the greater part of Claudius's reign, had a
decided talent for public affairs, and the administration of
the government profited accordingly. Thus, for instance,
not only were public finances placed on a sound basis once
more, but public improvements of great importance were
made, such as the extension of the aqueduct system, and
the improvement of the harbor at Ostia. The antiquarian
tastes of Claudius were not wholly detrimental to the public
interests. They encouraged a regard for tradition and for
old institutions ; the senate in particular was treated with
respect. It became once more a deliberative body, and
acquired some part of its old-time independence. Although
the natural bent of Claudius and his early life had robbed
him in a measure of the power of taking the initiative in
important matters, it had developed in him an infinite
patience in perfecting a system already in existence. To
this characteristic is due largely the improvements in the
judicial system and in the police and water departments of
the city.

352. Accession of Nero. In her struggle with Narcissus,
Agrippina's first object was to secure the succession for
Nero, her son by Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus. She pre-
vailed at last upon Claudius to adopt him, and, taking
advantage of the illness and absence of Narcissus in the
year 54, cleared the way for her son by having Claudius
poisoned. Her faithful supporter, Burrus, brought Nero
before the troops, and he was saluted emperor.



TIBERIUS TO NERO 295

353. Court Intrigue under Nero. His reign was like
that of his immediate predecessor in two respects. It was
full of intrigue, and the control of public affairs was left
largely in the hands of advisers and favorites. The char-
acter of the government depended on the character and
ability of those under whose influence Nero fell. When
Agrippina first formed her ambitious plans for her son, she
placed him under the tutelage of the philosopher Seneca
and the protection of the prefect Burrus. As soon as he
ascended the throne, the new emperor showed that he
cared only for the pleasures and the distinction which his
position gave him, and was content to leave the affairs of
state in the hands of his mother and her two advisers ; but
the outcome did not please Agrippina. She was by no
means satisfied with the small share in the government
which she soon found that Seneca and Burrus were A\illing
to allow her, and she cast about for means to force Nero to
recognize her authority. Her efforts were fruitless, and it
is a remarkable illustration of the irony of fate that her
downfall was finally brought about by the same means which
had raised her to power. Just as her personal charms had
been used to encompass the ruin of Messalina, so the beauty
of Poppaea Sabina, the wife of M. Salvius Otho, caused the
downfall of Agrippina. Ultimately she, as well as Britannicus
and Octavia, Nero's wife, fell a victim to the jealous sus-
picions of the emperor. The death of Burrus three years
later, in 62, the appointment of Tigellinus as one of the
prefects of the praetorian guard, and the forced retirement
of Seneca, left Rome at the mercy of Nero's passions, stim-
ulated as they were by Tigellinus and the freedmen of the
court.

354. Administration of Public Affairs under Nero. The
character of Nero's administration differed greatly in these



296 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

two periods. Under the ministerial rule of Seneca the
senate was associated in the government, as it had been in
the time of Claudius (cf. p. 294), and, thanks to the cre-
ative ability of Seneca and the patience and energy of
Burrus, many important administrative reforms were intro-
duced. The legislation of the years 56-62 touching wills,
adoption, and certain abuses in the courts, as praevaricatio
and tergiversatio, was especially salutary. The finances
were managed with such wisdom that 60,000,000 sesterces
were annually turned into the state treasury. The second
period of the reign shows a far different state of affairs.
Life and liberty were held in light esteem, and the finances
of the state fell into a deplorable condition. The financial
difficulties of the empire were due in part to the great fire
of the year 64 and to the expenditure of large sums in
carrying on foreign campaigns ; but only in part, since the
extravagance of the court in building palaces and baths
and in giving public games was largely responsible for this
state of affairs ; and, to make matters worse, in meeting
this difficulty, the government resorted to the dangerous
expedient of debasing the coinage.

355- Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. The discontent to
which Nero's misgovernment gave rise found expression
in numerous conspiracies supported by the aristocracy and
members of the senate. But Nero had little to fear from
this source. The danger lay in another quarter. The
establishment of a standing army by Augustus, with a long,
fixed term of service (cf. pp. 285 f.), and the assignment of
legions for an indefinite period to a particular province,
where allegiance to the emperor was forgotten in devotion
to their commander, had divided the empire into a group
of inchoate principalities, in each of which the soldiers
and inhabitants had begun to feel the community of their



TIBERIUS TO NERO 297

interests. In fact, the tendency which was developing in
the provinces in the middle of the first century of our era,
unless it had been summarily checked, might have led to
the immediate disintegration of the Roman Empire. The
first clear indication of this nationalist movement appeared
in Gaul in 68, but the defeat of the leader of the move-
ment, C. Julius Vindex, by L. Verginius Rufus, the gov-
ernor of Upper Germany, crushed it out. Rufus himself,
however, was proclaimed imperator by his troops. He
decHned the offer, it is true, but not so much because
of his loyalty to Nero or the central government as on
account of his own low origin, which would probably have
frustrated any designs on the throne. No such difficulty
stood in the way of Ser. Sulpicius Galba, the governor of
Hispania Tarraconensis, who belonged to an old and influ-
ential family. He was proclaimed emperor by his own
troops, was supported by the German legions, when their
commander, Rufus, had positively refused to accept the
position, and through the efforts of Numpidius Sabinus,
the prefect of the praetorian guard, secured the adherence
of that force. Nero, finding himself deserted by every
one, took his own life June 9, 68. The policy of Galba
did not prove to be a wise one. He punished the dis-
affected soldiers of the German legions. He removed their
popular leader, Rufus, and estranged the praetorian guard
by not fulfilling the promises which Numpidius had made
in his name. The legions in Lower Germany retaliated by
naming their commander, A. Vitellius, emperor, while the
praetorian guard in Rome proclaimed M. Salvius Otho.
Galba was assassinated in January, 69 ; the senate con-
firmed the choice of Otho, and the new emperor set out
for the North to check the advance of his rival. Otho
was defeated at Cremona, and later at Bedriacum, and left



298 IMPERIAL PERIOD : HISTORICAL

Italy and his Italian supporters a prey to the wrath and
the greed of the German legions by taking his own life in
April, 69. Vitellius was at once recognized as emperor by
the senate, and began his reign by adopting a conciliatory
policy toward the senate and the members of the opposite
faction.

356. Extinction of the Julian Line. Naturally very
little of constitutional or administrative significance was
done during this year of confusion. The most important
result of the death of Nero was the disappearance of the
partially recognized hereditary principle. The recognition
of this principle had tended to give continuity to the gov-
ernment. At least, the next of kin to a deceased emperor,
if supported by the praetorian guard, was reasonably sure
of the succession. The extinction of the Julian line, how-
ever, opened the door to any successful commander, and
the armies in the provinces became the effective electoral
bodies. The necessity of securing the confirmation of the
senate was recognized, but the acquiescence of that body
was naturally a matter of form.

357. The Frontier Policy from a.d. 14 to 68. The
successors of Augustus from a.d. 14 to 68 followed out
the frontier policy which he had indicated. They strength-
ened the frontiers of the empire, but made no serious
efforts to push them forward, except in the case of Britain.
In the East, the reduction of Cappadocia to the form of a
province in A.n. 17 helped to protect Roman territory, and,
after a long dispute over Armenia, a modus Tivendi with
Farthia was reached in the year 63, under which Tiridates,
the brother of the Parthian king, received the Armenian
crown in Rome from the hands of Nero. Under Claudius
the southern frontier was fortified, and the two Maure-
tanian provinces, which had been established in 40, were



TIBERIUS TO NERO 299

completely pacified two years later. In the North no
determined effort was made to force the peoples beyond
the Rhine to recognize Roman authority, but the frontier
line along that river was protected, and the Germans were
encouraged to waste their strength in internecine warfare.
Disturbances in Thrace led to its annexation as a prov-
ince in 46, and thus the Danube continued the line of
the empire to the Black sea. In the West only an impor-
tant increase of territory was made by the conquest of
southern Britain and its erection into a province in the
year 43.

358. Municipal Government in Italy. One of the most
noteworthy constitutional changes under the early empire
consisted in the development of municipal government in
Italy and the provinces, and in the tendency to secure
uniformity, at least within a given area. The prevailing
system adopted for the mimicipia in Italy was similar to
that in force in Rome. It comprised magistrates, a senate,
and a popular assembly. The magistrates were known as
IV viri, formed two colleges, and were commonly called
// viri iure dicundo and // viri aedilicia potestate. They
were chosen in the popular assembly, although elections
were later transferred to the senate. The // viri iure di-
cundo had the right to convoke and preside over the local
senate and popular assembly, to exercise jurisdiction in civil
and criminal cases under certain restrictions, and in coop-
eration with the senate they had charge of the finances
and of the local military contingent. The // viri aedilicia
potestate had charge primarily of the police and of the
public games. In some communities quaestors were also
chosen. Otherwise minor financial duties were performed
by the aediles. All these officials were chosen annually,
and had insignia not unlike those of the magistrates at



300 IMPERIAL PERIOD: HISTORICAL

Rome. Every five years // viri quinqiiejinales censoria
potestate were elected to take the census. The senate
{ordo decurioinim or senatus) usually comprised loo mem-
bers. A senator held his position for life, subject to the
discretion of the censors, who made out the list of senators
on the same principle which the censors at Rome followed.
The relations which a municipal senate bore to the local
magistrates and popular assemblies were almost exactly the
same as those which the Roman senate bore to the Roman
magistrates and to the comitia. The inhabitants of the
municipalities fell into two classes, cives and iticolae. Gives
were those who had the rights of citizenship by birth or by
special concession. Incolae were those who had taken up
their domicile in a town without severing their relations
with the community from which they had come. Both
classes were liable to military service and to the other
7niinera imposed by the community, but the cives only,
under the early empire, were eligible to office. The unit
in the popular assembly was the curia or the tribus, and
the method of voting was identical with that in force at
Rome.

359. Local Government in the Provinces. The unit of
government in the newly acquired provinces of the West
was the municipality, and to most of these municipalities,
as they gave evidence of becoming Romanized, the ins
Lata was granted. Those who had held magistracies or
a seat in the local senate received the full rights of citizen-
ship, and the adoption of this policy did much toward
attaching the leading families to the Roman regime. In
Germany and the other less civilized provinces to the north,
the cantonal or some similar unit of government was
adopted. The policy which Rome followed in the older



Online LibraryFrank Frost AbbottA history and description of Roman political institutions → online text (page 23 of 34)