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31: Sejanus, captain of the Praetorian Guard

October 18th, 2008 Headsman

Over the course of this day in 31, Lucius Aelius Seianus went from virtual master of the Roman Empire to strangulation at the order of the Senate.

Patrick Stewart as Sejanus in I, Claudius.

Known simply as Sejanus, he was of equestrian stock who rose to prefect the Praetorian Guard when Tiberius succeeded Augustus as Rome’s first citizen.

It was not yet the “infamous Praetorian Guard”. Sejanus would make it so: his were the institutional aggrandizement — long outliving Sejanus — that would position the Guard to arbitrate imperial succession; his the persecutorial internal policing that made it a swords-and-sandals Gestapo.

Sejanus maneuvered skillfully towards supreme power in Rome — and ruthlessly enough that he is suspected of having murdered Tiberius’s son and heir Drusus. Though the Emperor refused a dynastic marriage with Drusus’s widow that would have set Sejanus up for official succession, the Praetorian had the purple in all but name in the late 20’s when Tiberius decamped for the dissolution of Capri.

The usual sort of thing ensued: spies, informers, purges and political murders.

The Republic had been down this road before. After the peace of Augustus, it was a chilling preview of Imperial Rome’s coming attractions.

Unlike most of those, the Sejanus issue was ultimately resolved without civil war. Finally wise to his captain’s game, Tiberius snuffed out the threat in a single blow without bestirring himself from his island retreat by sending word to convoke Sejanus and the Senate to elevate the soldier to the tribunate … and having a letter there read which demanded the soldier’s arrest.

That august old body — “men fit to be slaves,” in Tiberius’s estimation — took it from there. Sejanus was summarily executed this very evening, his body torn apart by the mob, and a witch hunt for his lieutenants and supporters immediately began.

Nice coverage of Sejanus and Tiberius on the History of Rome podcast.

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On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Infamous,Italy,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Strangled,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns

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14 thoughts on “31: Sejanus, captain of the Praetorian Guard”

  1. Saskboy says:

    Now that’s a laugh… Patrick with hair! Some people just look better bald.

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