As the smoke ascended an eagle shot from the summit, circled a moment, and disappeared. For the sum of a million sesterces a senator swore that with the eagle he had seen the emperor’s soul.
Mention Tiberius, and the name evokes a taciturn tyrant, devising in the crypts of a palace infamies so monstrous that to describe them new words were coined.
In the Borghese collection Tiberius is rather good-looking than otherwise, not an Antinous certainly, but manifestly a dreamer; one whose eyes must have been almost feline in their abstraction, and in the corners of whose mouth you detect pride, no doubt, but melancholy as well. The pride was congenital, the melancholy was not.
Under Tiberius there was quiet, a romancer wrote, and the phrase in its significance passed into legend. During the dozen or more years that he ruled in Rome, his common sense was obvious. The Tiber overflowed, the senate looked for a remedy in the Sibyline Books. Tiberius set some engineers to work. A citizen swore by Augustus and swore falsely. The senate sought to punish him, not for perjury but for sacrilege. It is for Augustus to punish, said Tiberius. The senate wanted to name a month after him. Tiberius declined. “Supposing I were the thirteenth Caesar, what would you do?” For years he reigned, popular and acclaimed, caring the while nothing for popularity and less for pomp. Sagacious, witty even, believing perhaps in little else than fate and mathematics, yet maintaining the institutions of the land, striving resolutely for the best, outwardly impassable and inwardly mobile, he was a man and his patience had bounds. There were conspirators in the atrium, there was death in the courtier’s smile; and finding his favorites false, his life threatened, danger at every turn, his conception of rulership changed. Where moderation had been suddenly there gleamed the axe.
Tacitus, always dramatic, states that at the time terror devastated the city. It so happened that under the republic there was a law against whomso diminished the majesty of the people. The republic was a god, one that had its temple, its priests, its altars. When the republic succumbed, its divinity passed to the emperor; he became Jupiter’s peer, and, as such, possessed of a majesty which it was sacrilege to slight. Consulted on the subject, Tiberius replied that the law must be observed. Originally instituted in prevention of offences against the public good, it was found to change into a crime, a word, a gesture or a look. It was a crime to undress before a statue of Augustus, to mention his name in the latrinae, to carry a coin with his image into a lupanar. The punishment was death. Of the property of the accused, a third went to the informer, the rest to the state. Then abruptly terror stalked abroad. No one was safe except the obscure, and it was the obscure that accused.