37: Some poor wretches, despite the death of Tiberius

3 comments March 16th, 2010 Headsman

The Roman Emperor Tiberius expired at Misenum on this date in 37 A.D.


The Death of Tiberius, by Jean-Paul Laurens. Tacitus records that the aged princeps was thought to have expired, to the great relief of all, when word came that he was reviving. “[Praetorian prefect] Macro, nothing daunted, ordered the old emperor to be smothered under a huge heap of clothes.”

As Tiberius had been spending his last years terrifyingly purging Rome of alleged “traitors,” his death was met with some considerable relief. Great news: charismatic young prince Caligula is in charge now!

Anyway, despite the old man’s unpopularity and the manifest injustice of his treason trials, Tiberius’s death did not quite halt momentum of political butchery. Ever thus with bureaucracies.

According to Suetonius,

The people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting, “Tiberius to the Tiber,” while others prayed to Mother Earth and the Manes to allow the dead man no abode except among the damned. Still others threatened his body with the hook and the Stairs of Mourning, especially embittered by a recent outrage, added to the memory of his former cruelty. It had been provided by decree of the senate that the execution of the condemned should in all cases be put off for ten days, and it chanced that the punishment of some fell due on the day when the news came about Tiberius. The poor wretches begged the public for protection; but since in the continued absence of Gaius [Caligula] there was no one who could be approached and appealed to, the jailers, fearing to act contrary to the law, strangled them and cast out their bodies on the Stairs of Mourning. Therefore hatred of the tyrant waxed greater, since his cruelty endured even after his death.

But Tiberius’s cruelty didn’t endure too long after his death. Pretty soon, Caligula’s cruelty would have the stage all to itself and Tiberius survivors would be yearning for the good old days.

The History of Rome podcast covers Tiberius’s crazy years and the transition to Caligula here.

* It’s not completely explicit that it was on this same March 16 that news of the emperor’s death hit Rome; therefore, it’s conceivable that the drama described here played out on a subsequent date.

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39: Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, erotic poet

1 comment October 14th, 2009 Headsman

On an uncertain date likely around early October* in 39 A.D., former Roman Consul Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus (not to be confused with Publius Cornelius Lentulus) was executed at the order of Caligula for his part in some sort of plot long lost to history.

In his public life, Gaetulicus was a Machiavellian politician connected to the fallen Praetorian Guard captain Sejanus (their kids were at one point engaged to be married). He evidently survived the post-Sejanus purge with an adroit bit of written diplomacy to the Praetorian’s patron-cum-executioner the Emperor Tiberius, tactfully pointing out that the Emperor had made the same errant choice of alliance. Thus did Gaetulicus retain both his head and his career.

After a decade milking his German province, and Tiberius shuffled off the mortal coil and young Caligula now ruling the empire, Gaetulicus seemingly** involved himself in something treasonable with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the latter a recent fave of Caligula and briefly his designated heir.

Or, if you credit scandal-mongering Roman historian Cassius Dio‘s description of the Emperor’s deadly northward road trip, he did it out of some whim of rivalry or opportunity for pecuniary advantage.

Gaius had now spent practically all the money in Rome and the rest of Italy, gathered from every source from which he could in any way get it, and as no source of revenue in considerable amount or practicable to collect could be found there, and his expenses were pressing him hard, he set out for Gaul, ostensibly because the hostile Germans were stirring up trouble, but in reality with the purpose of exploiting both Gaul with its abounding wealth and Spain also. However, he did not openly announce his expedition beforehand, but went first to one of the suburbs and then suddenly set out on the journey, taking with him many actors, many gladiators, horses, women, and all the other trappings of luxury. When he reached his destination, he did no harm to any of the enemy — in fact, as soon as he had proceeded a short distance beyond the Rhine, he returned, and then set out as if to conduct a campaign against Britain, but turned back from the ocean’s edge, showing no little vexation at his lieutenants who won some slight success — but upon the subject peoples, the allies, and the citizens he inflicted vast and innumerable ills. In the first place, he despoiled those who possessed anything, on any and every excuse; and secondly, both private citizens and cities brought him large gifts voluntarily, as it was made to appear. He murdered some men on the ground that they were rebelling, and others on the ground that they were conspiring against him; but the real complaint was one and the same for the whole people — the fact that they were rich. By selling their possessions himself, he realized far greater sums than would otherwise have been the case; for everybody was compelled to buy them at any price and for much more than their value, for the reasons I have mentioned. Accordingly, he sent also for the finest and most precious heirlooms of the monarchy and sold them off by auction, selling with them the fame of the persons who had once used them. Thus he would make some comment on each one, such as, “this belonged to my father,” “this to my mother,” “this to my grandfather,”, “this to my great-grandfather,” “this Egyptian piece was Antony’s, the prize of victory for Augustus.” At the same time he also explained the necessity of selling them, so that no one could persist in pretending to be poor; and thus he made them buy the reputation of each article along with the thing itself.

In spite of all this he did not secure any surplus, but kept up his customary expenditures, not only for other objects that interested him — exhibiting, for example, some games at Lugdunum — but especially for the legions. For he had gathered together two hundred thousand troops, or, as some say, two hundred and fifty thousand. He was acclaimed imperator by them seven times, as his whim directed, though he had won no battle and slain no enemy. To be sure, he did once by a ruse seize and bind a few of the foe, whereas he used up a large part of his own force, striking some of them down one at a time and butchering others then masse. Thus, on one occasion, when he saw a crowd of prisoners or some other persons, he gave orders in the famous phrase, that they should all be slain “from baldhead to baldhead.” At another time he was playing at dice, and finding that he had no money, he called for the census lists of the Gauls and ordered the wealthiest of them to be put to death; then, returning to his fellow-gamesters, he said: “Here you are playing for a few denarii, while I have taken in a good one hundred and fifty millions.” So these men perished without any consideration. Indeed, one of them, Julius Sacerdos, who was fairly well off, yet not so extremely wealthy as to become the object of attack on that account, was slain simply because of a similarity of names. This shows how carelessly everything was done. As for the others who perished, there is no need of my naming over most of them, but I will mention those of whom history requires some record. In the first place, then, he put to death Lentulus Gaetulicus, who had an excellent reputation in every way and had been governor of Germany for ten years, for the reason that he was endeared to the soldiers. Another of his victims was Lepidus, that lover and favourite of his, the husband of Drusilla, the man who had together with Gaius maintained improper relations with the emperor’s other sisters, Agrippina and Julia, the man whom he had allowed to stand for office five years earlier than was permitted by law and whom he kept declaring he would leave as his successor to the throne. To celebrate this man’s death he gave the soldiers money, as though he had defeated some enemies, and sent three daggers to Mars Ultor in Rome. He deported his sisters to the Pontian Islands because of their relations with Lepidus, having first accused them in a communication to the senate of many impious and immoral actions. Agrippina was given Lepidus’ bones in an urn and bidden to carry it back to Rome, keeping it in her bosom during the whole journey.

It’s a pity that the details of this affair, whatever they were, have been lost to history. The History of Rome podcast treats this episode among a review of Caligula’s gnarly reign

According to Post-Augustan Poetry, Gaetulicus

was consul in 26 A.D., and for ten years was legatus in Upper Germany, where his combination of firmness and clemency won him great popularity. He conspired against Caligula while holding this command, and was put to death. Pliny the younger speaks of him as the writer of sportive and lascivious erotic verse, and Martial writes of him in very similar terms. His mistress was named Caesennia, and was herself a poetess.

Only a fragment (which I have not been able to locate online) of a Latin verse describing Britain remains affirmatively attributed to this poet, though he is sometimes speculatively identified with the “Gaetulicus” to whom some epigrams in the Greek Anthology (or “Palatine Anthology”) are attributed e.g.

TO APHRODITE EUPLOIA

Guardian of the seabeach, to thee I send these cakes, and the gifts of
a scanty sacrifice; for to-morrow I shall cross the broad wave of the
Ionian sea, hastening to our Eidothea’s arms. But shine thou
favourably on my love as on my mast, O Cyprian, mistress of the bride-
chamber and the beach.

* Date ballparked by public sacrifices offered in Rome on October 27 “to mark the exposure of the evil plots of Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus against Gaius Germanicus.” (Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire, which speculates at some length on what the dimensions of a Gaetulicus plot might have been.)

** Though Lepidus was executed at about the same time, and Cassius Dio suggests a connection, it’s not completely clear that they conspired together. Since Cassius Dio (and Suetonius, who also connects them in Life of Claudius), wrote generations after the events themselves, we want for dependable information.

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Seven Generic Halloween Costumes You Can Spice Up With an Execution Story

5 comments October 22nd, 2008 Headsman

Executed Today’s Guide to Halloween, Part II (Click here for Part I.)

Not enough time to assemble an individual masterpiece to play Halloween make-believe? Looking at that off-the-rack costume, that witch outfit from last year, and sighing that it’ll have to do?

No sweat.

Let Executed Today help you go from so generic to sui generis with a horrible backstory that adds conversation-starting depth to the most bland of disguises.

Witch

The Halloween standby has a few hundred thousand real-life executions of which we’ve covered a bare handful.

Anne de Chartraine, a Walloon teenager burnt for witchcraft during the Thirty Years’ War, makes a good characterization of the classic black-hat-and-broomstick outfit.

More complex occultist disguises might consider presenting themselves as poisoner La Voisin, author Jacques Cazotte or the Weirs.

Pirate

Avast, ye sea-dog — there be more pirates than Blackbeard.

Men (especially leftists, anarchists and Bostonians — but I repeat myself) will enjoy answering the inevitable question when representing as William Fly. Ladies — think Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Ghost

Appropriately, the Great White North has interesting specters to round out the old white-sheet look. Haunt the scene of the kegstand as Madame Marie Josephte Corriveau or assassin Patrick Whelan.

Roman

Cicero is an obvious choice for the toga set, but consider writing Catiline on the nametag instead.

For the whole centurion look, call yourself Sejanus and start settling scores.

Soldier

There are many military looks for many times and places, of course, lots of them liable to be politically touchy in the wrong crowd.

Partisans like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya and Evagoras Pallikarides cut heroic figures with a plain set of clothes, some basic military gear, and a knapsack full of consonants.

More formally equipped modern-ish choices of various different lands include Francisco Caamano, Breaker Morant, Mikhael Tukhachevsky, Claus von Stauffenberg, Dmytro Bilinchuk, Emil August Fieldorf, and Theophile Maupas et al.

Werewolf

This blog will always have a special place at the stake for supposed real-life lycanthrope Peter Stubbe, the “Werewolf of Bedburg” who was profiled in our very first post: he was executed October 31, 1589.

Executioner

Of course, there is one ubiquitous character in these pages — and his face isn’t always well-hidden.

Klutzy Brit Jack Ketch, prolific French Revolution headsman Sanson, U.S. President Grover Cleveland and (helpfully, for Halloween) flamboyantly costumed Italian executioner Mastro Titta are among the famous characters to tread the scaffold boards.

Creative Commons pumpkin image courtesy of fabbio

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31: Sejanus, captain of the Praetorian Guard

14 comments 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.

[audio:http://c1.libsyn.com/media/17332/58-_Partner_of_my_Labors.mp3]

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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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