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A Manual of Ancient History by A. H. L. Heeren

The foundation of the judicia majestatis


_Histoire des triumvirats augmentee de l'histoire d'Auguste, par_ LARRY. Trevoux, 1741, 4 parts, 8vo. The last part of this simple narrative contains the history of Augustus from the death of Catiline.

10. The reign of Tiberius Claudius Nero, or, as he was called after his adoption, Augustus Tiberius Caesar, from his fifty-sixth to his seventy-eighth year, changed rather the spirit than the form of the Roman constitution. He succeeded quietly to the vacant throne at Rome, although the legions in Pannonia, and still more in Germany, felt that they could make emperors. Under him the _comitia_, or assemblies of the people, were reduced to a mere shadow; as he transferred their duties to the senate, which also became the highest tribunal for the state crimes of its own members: this assembly, however, had now been so much accustomed to obey the will of the prince, that everything depended on his personal character. Tiberius founded his despotism upon the _judicia majestatis_, or accusations of high treason, now become an engine of terror, the senate also sharing his guilt with a pusillanimity and servility which knew no bounds. This degraded assembly, indeed, from the moment that it ceased to be the ruling authority of a free state, necessarily became the passive instrument of the most brutal tyranny. Notwithstanding the military talents and many good qualities of Tiberius, his despotic character had been formed long before his fifty-sixth year,

when he mounted the throne; although exterior circumstances prevented him from entirely throwing off the mask which he had hitherto worn.

The foundation of the _judicia majestatis_, which soon became so terrible by the unfixed state of crime, had been laid during the reign of Augustus by the _lex Julia de majestate_, and the _cognitiones extraordinariae_, or commissioners appointed to take cognizance of certain crimes; it was, however, the abuse of them by Tiberius and his successors, which rendered them so dreadful.

12. The principal object of Tiberius's suspicion, and therefore of his hate, was Germanicus, a man almost adored by the army and the people. This brave general he soon recalled from Germany, and sent into Syria to quell the disorders of the east. After having successfully put an end to the commotions which called him there, he was poisoned by the contrivances of Cn. Piso and his wife; and even that did not shelter the numerous family which he left behind, with his widow Agrippina, from persecution and ruin.

The expeditions of Germanicus in the east not only gave a king to Armenia, but also reduced Cappadocia and Commagene to Roman provinces, A. C. 17.

_Histoire de Caesar Germanicus, par_ M. L. D. B. [EAUFORT]. a Leyden, 1741. An unpretending chronological narrative.

13. Rome, however, soon experienced to her cost the powerful ascendancy which L. Aelius Sejanus, the praefect of the praetorian guard, had acquired over the mind of Tiberius, whose unlimited confidence he possessed the more, as he enjoyed it without a rival. The eight years of his authority were rendered terrible not only by the cantonment of his troops in barracks near the city (_castra praetoriana_), but (having first persuaded Tiberius to quit Rome for ever, that he might more securely play the tyrant in the isle of Capreae) by his endeavouring to open a way for himself to the throne by villanies and crimes without number, and by his cruel persecution of the family of Germanicus. The despotism he had introduced became still more dreadful by his own fall, in which not only his whole party, but every one that could be considered as connected with it, became involved. The picture of the atrocious despotism of Tiberius is rendered doubly disgusting by the horrid and unnatural lust which he joined to it in his old age.


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