In the disordered conditions which followed the death of Cæsar, the old Roman constitution lost what little force it had seemed to retain under the preceding dictators. The offices of the State remained the same in name, and were still supposed to be filled by men who were freely chosen by the people; but all were under the hand of a power which the Senate dared not resist, and in which the people, weary of the bloody contentions of the oligarchy, were willing to acquiesce so long as bread and games were forthcoming. This power was the army. Whosoever controlled the army found the interpretation of his own political rights not difficult. The forces of the Empire were in the hands of three men: Lepidus, who commanded the legions which at the opportune moment were near Rome; Antony, who was the idol of the people; and the young Octavius, who stood on the vantage of his relationship to the great Cæsar, These men divided the world among themselves; but, in the end, Octavius, by the steadiness of his mind, the fixity of his purpose, and the scope of his executive ability, won for himself the Empire. During the years of civil war and political turmoil which accompanied these changes, much in the Roman social construction which had hitherto been beneath found its way to the surface. It was a struggle in which any strength, skill, or art that enabled its possessor to best his fellows meant political advantage. Though deficient in strength, women, having a certain skill peculiar to their sex and being especially adapted to the practice of those arts by means of which political situations are managed from behind the scenes, became much more influential in State affairs than formerly. Their prominence grew as the government narrowed down from the free Senate to the person of the emperor. Women have always been powerful in a monarchical or an imperial court, but have never enjoyed any notable political rights in a republic.
The period which we are now studying is rich in the names of women who, standing around Cæsar's throne, often found means to further or thwart the designs of its occupant. Among them we may select Livia, not for the dignity of her character or the ability of her mind,--though she was not lacking in either of these qualities,--but because of her position as the Augusta and her long life, she, better than any other, serves to represent the women who were influential in Roman public affairs. Though if Fulvia had lived and Antony had been discreet, Rome might have been governed by a woman, and Fulvia instead of Livia would have been the type we should have chosen. While her husband was following Cleopatra to Egypt, a prisoner to her fascinations, Fulvia had control of the consuls and was making war against Octavius. If this ambitious, strong-minded woman, who held reviews of the troops with a sword at her side, had been possessed of sufficient funds, Octavius might never have won the purple; but the only means by which the army could be held were wasted by her husband in monstrous extravagances. Defeated in her schemes through the non-coöperation of her husband, Fulvia became ill through vexation and shame, and died about B.C. 39.
Livia possessed an entirely different character from that which dominated Fulvia; yet, being of the Claudian race,--that family which, as Niebuhr says, "in all ages distinguished itself alike by a spirit of haughty defiance, by disdain for the laws, and iron hardness of heart,"--it would have been strange if Livia had not made her influence felt in the house of Cæsar and to the sorrow of those who stood in her way. When Livia first met Octavius, she was eighteen years old and the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero, a man probably much older than herself. The varying aspects of the Civil War made it difficult for a man who sought before all things his own security to know which cause to support. Ill luck seemed to prompt Claudius Nero in his choice; first he threw in his lot with Brutus and Cassius, though he was indebted to Cæsar for many favors; then, after the defeat of these, he joined Antony against Augustus. The consequence was that he spent much time in the endeavor to rectify his mistakes of policy by fleeing from one commander to another. In all these journeyings and adventures his wife accompanied him, carrying with her their young child Tiberius, who was destined to become Emperor of Rome. At times she was exposed to great danger; for instance, in Lacedæmon, during an escape by night from their enemies, the forest through which they were passing was on fire, and her hair and clothing were scorched by the flames. Claudius Nero succeeded in gaining a pardon from Octavius, and he and his wife returned to Rome. Whether this grace resulted from the representations he made in his own defence, or from the interest excited by Livia in the mind of Octavius, history does not inform us; but certain conclusions are unavoidable, inasmuch as Octavius compelled Claudius Nero to divorce his wife so that he himself might marry her.
In order that this marriage might take place, a double divorce was necessary; for Octavius was already united to Scribonia, by whom he had a daughter, Julia, the only child that was ever born to him. He had married Scribonia for purposes of political expediency. At the time of his marriage he was only twenty-three years old, while his bride was his senior by many years and had already lost two husbands by death. The object of this marriage was to win for Octavius the support of Libo, the brother of Scribonia, and through him his son-in-law Sextus Pompeius, who was a man of great influence. This purpose being served, the young ruler found himself at the same time secure in his position and tired of the marital alliance which he had formed for the sake of that security. He alleged perversity of character and incompatibility of temperament--- the only charges he could prefer--in Scribonia, and sent her a letter of separation only a few days after his child had been born.
"By this act," says Adolf Stahr, as quoted by S. Baring Gould, "Octavius himself strewed the seeds of discord which were to disturb fatally the concord of the imperial family, not only during his own life, but far beyond it, Scribonia would have been no woman not to have felt deadly hatred toward that woman in whom she saw the robber of her honor, the wrecker of her happiness, the overthrower of her ambition, and by means of whom a new family forced its way into that place which should have been hers and usurped her claims and her hopes. As the mother of Julia, the only daughter of the sovereign, as the ancestress of Julia's children and grandchildren, she remained, in spite of the separation, the head of the Julian race, the dynasty called to sovereignty. No wonder, then, that henceforth she stood in hostile opposition to the Claudian Livia and her two children. This deadly animosity between the two family branches of the imperial house was reflected more than two generations later in the memoirs of the great-grandchild of Scribonia, the second Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, and mother of Nero, the source whence, poisoned as it was with fiercest hate toward Livia and her son, the Emperor Tiberius, Tacitus drew the colors with which he painted both one and the other in his Annals."
There is good ground for believing that the marriage of Octavius and Livia was a love match. Though the new bride was descended from one of the most aristocratic and powerful families of Rome, her relatives were not especially prominent at that time; so it would seem that the triumvir's regard for her was not regulated by the calculations of expediency. Livia possessed not only beauty, but also the character of mind which was likely to charm a man with the disposition of Octavius. She was quick to understand and appreciate his intelligent purposes and far-reaching achievements. There was between the two that sympathy which is the absolute requisite of a happy marriage.
As to Livia's personal attractions, Ovid assures us that she had the features of Venus and the manners of Juno. Making not a little allowance for the flattery made necessary by the position of the courtier, and some for the license of the poet, we may still believe that the wife of the first emperor was a very beautiful woman. There are yet in existence a great many representations of her. She was the first Roman woman to have her face displayed upon the coin of the realm; but we cannot accept these images as portraits, though they bear her name. There is one Roman medal, however, which represents Livia in old age; consequently, we may safely consider it as authentic. No picture of the youthful loveliness which captivated Octavius has been preserved; but there is in the Louvre a magnificent statue which represents Livia as the goddess Ceres. There is much character in the face, and there is a sufficient resemblance to Tiberius to authorize the belief that it really portrays his mother. The form and features are those of a matron on the declining side of thirty. The figure is majestic, possibly made more so than the original for reasons complimentary to the divinity; yet it seems to justify Ovid's account of the Juno-like manners of the Augusta. The charm of youthful beauty has not yet deserted the face. The eyes, so far as can be judged from the cold, colorless marble, were lustrous and large; the mouth, with its short upper lip, was capable of both power and variety of expression, and doubtless aided Livia to obtain her will of Augustus as much by its silent eloquence as by its articulate enunciation. To the slight arch of the Roman nose she of course could claim a national right.
Three months after her marriage to Octavius, Livia gave birth to her second son. On this occasion, Caesar wrote in his journal: "To-day my wife bore me a boy, whom I caused to be sent to his father Nero." But Nero dying soon afterward, and having in his will left this child--who was named Drusus--and also the latter's brother Tiberius to the guardianship of Octavius, the children were again restored to Livia and trained as the sons of her imperial husband.
Livia's marriage with Octavius, whatever may be said of the circumstances under which it was brought about, was a happy one. For fifty-two years they lived together, a period ending only with Octavius's death; and upon her character as a wife there was never cast, even by those whose hatred she excited, the slightest reflection. In the midst of a corrupt and luxurious society, she lived in accordance with those chaste and simple principles which governed the matrons of the early Republic. It is said that her husband commonly wore clothing which was wrought by the hands of his wife and the other female members of his family. While, however, the house of Octavius was conducted after the old-fashioned method, Livia was by no means such a political nonentity as had been the matron of ancient times. She was obedient to her husband, and in all things subservient to his wishes, even going so far--if Suetonius is to be credited in the matter--as to more than condone his wandering inclinations of an amorous nature. Livia knew how to manage the first man who was able to capture and hold the government of the Roman Empire. Her tact and good sense, conjoined with his affection, enabled her to wield an influence over the emperor which had its effect in the weightiest affairs of State. Her counsel was usually in the interest of kindness and forbearance; more than once, when he was inclined to exercise severity in the punishment of his enemies, she won him to gentler methods. That he frequently sought her advice in important political matters, we know; and it is on record that sometimes, when he wished to consult her on subjects of grave moment, he would first write out that which he desired to say, in order that he might present his ideas as clearly and correctly as possible.
The picture given us of Livia by the ancient historians is of a double and somewhat inconsistent character. The wife of Augustus was a model of uprightness and honor; the empress shown us by Tacitus as seeking to bring to pass her own designs in regard to the succession was heartless and unprincipled. Here are the conclusions drawn by Merivale, and they form a verdict in which probably most students of Roman history will agree: "In her second home, she directed all her arts to securing her position, and became, perhaps, in no long course of time, as consummate a dissembler and intriguer as Octavius himself. While, indeed, she seconded him in his efforts to cajole the Roman people, she was engaged, not less successfully, in cajoling him. Her elegant manners, in which she was reputed to exceed the narrow limits allowed by fashion and opinion to the Roman matrons, proved no less fascinating to him than her beauty. Her intellect was undoubtedly of a high order; and when her personal charms failed to enchain his roving inclinations, she was content with the influence she still continued to hold over his understanding The sway she acquired over him in the first transports of courtship she retained without change or interruption to the day of his death."
Before we turn our attention to the history of Livia's efforts to secure the succession for her son Tiberius, let us fill out the picture in which she stands by placing in it some of the noted women by whom she was surrounded. First and foremost, there is Octavia, the half-sister of Cæsar Augustus. For this noble woman the ancient writers have nothing but the most enthusiastic praise. Plutarch briefly describes her as a "wonder of a woman." Fortunately, we know more of her than is expressed in that superlative phrase. Her mother's name was Atia, and she was a few years older than Octavius. The historian above quoted claims for her so much beauty that she did not suffer in that respect in comparison with her great Egyptian rival, Cleopatra; but the figures of her which are extant hardly support the claim. Nor was she clever like Cleopatra; indeed, she had little to recommend her except her relationship with the powerful Octavius, her sterling goodness, and the sweet amiability of her character. For this reason her marriage to Antony was as great a failure in the purpose for which it was intended--the winning of the triumvir from his infatuation--as it was a misfortune to herself. That a woman like Octavia should be united to such a man as Mark Antony did not seem to the ancients such a tragedy as it appears to us; and probably the sister of Octavius endured with an unconcern incomprehensible to us the knowledge that her husband had been the lover of many women, some even of the most abandoned sort.
For a while, Octavia did exercise a restraining influence over her wayward husband; and though she could not gird on a sword and harangue the legions, as did Fulvia, more than once by her prudence and good sense she helped Antony materially in his time of need. It also seems that while his wife was by his side he was able to withstand any propensity that was in him to go down into Egypt. Plutarch recounts that Antony having a misunderstanding with Octavius, the two were about to oppose their forces in civil strife at Tarentum. Octavia, however, obtained leave of her husband to visit the camp of her brother; "and as she was on her way she met Cæsar, with his two friends Agrippa and Mæcenas, and, taking these two aside, with urgent entreaties and much lamentation she told them that from being the most fortunate woman upon earth she was in danger of becoming the most unhappy; for as yet everyone's eyes were fixed upon her as the wife and sister of the two great commanders, but, if rash counsels should prevail, and war ensue, 'I shall be miserable,' said she, 'without redress; for on what side soever victory falls, I shall be sure to be a loser.'" Caesar was overcome by these entreaties, and advanced in a peaceable temper to Tarentum, where he was entertained by Antony. "And when at length an agreement was made between them ... Octavia further obtained of her husband twenty light ships for her brother, and of her brother a thousand foot for her husband. So, having parted good friends, Caesar went immediately to make war with Pompey to conquer Sicily," and Antony repaired to Syria, where he once more met the Egyptian queen; and from this infatuation Octavia was never again able to win him.
Yet this admirable woman did not cease to fulfil her part as a dutiful and helpful wife. When her husband returned from his disastrous expedition against the Parthians, having lost a great part of his forces and all his supplies, he received a message from Octavia asking where she might meet him. The answer received by her was a peremptory and unfeeling command not to proceed further than Athens, as he was about to start on a new expedition. Displeased though she was, being fully aware of the cause wherefore she was not welcome, she wrote again, asking to know to what place she should send the soldiers, money, and presents she had brought for his use.
On her return to Rome, Cæsar, incensed at the treatment his sister had received, commanded her to leave Antony's house and repudiate all further connection with him. This she steadfastly refused to do. She continued to live in her husband's house until she was obliged to leave by his own command. Then she took with her own children those of Fulvia; and after the death of Antony, she even welcomed to her home the daughter which had been born to him by her Egyptian rival, and it was impossible for the Romans to perceive that she gave less motherly care to the young Cleopatra than she bestowed upon her own offspring.
Judging by what we know of her, no age has produced a more beautiful character than that of Octavia. In her were exemplified the fairest of those qualities which are especially inculcated by the principles of Christianity. Goodness, long-suffering, forbearance, and gentleness: these were exhibited in her life to a degree which after ages refused to believe possible under paganism; which goes to show that the idea that the noblest graces of character could not ripen previous to the present era is an unwarranted assumption. It arises from the fact that in the accounts we have of the ancient world there is more said of the exercise and the consequences of violent passions and human depravity than there is of pure love and kindly forbearance; but this may be accounted for by the well-attested axiom that peaceful lives furnish no history. If Octavia, living in the very centre of all the varied influences which fomented around the Palatine Hill, could maintain a pure and noble character, we may be very sure that the women who followed her example in the humbler walks of life were not so few as the Pagan satirists and the Christian apologists combine in leading us to suppose. There is no record of Octavia's having taken part in any of those activities by which Livia and other feminine members of the Cæsarian household endeavored to affect the course of political events. When all hope of there being any male issue of Augustus to inherit his rule was abandoned, the chance that Octavia's son by her first husband would be the next emperor seemed to become a certainty. Of her bereavement in his death we will speak later on. As the women with which this chapter deals were all of one family, and consequently were at home under the same roof, and, moreover, as the art of building had at this time attained its perfection at Rome, it will enable us to form a better picture of the life of these women if we see them in the house, their peculiar sphere.
About the time that Augustus married Livia, he built for himself a new residence. The Domus Augustana was erected on the Palatine Hill, and from the fact that this site was adopted for the imperial abode the magnificent structures reared upon it were called palaces; thus a word of differentiation was provided for the dwelling houses of the rulers. Livia's palace was not a large building, judging from what was considered necessary at a time when rich families were served by hundreds of slaves; but Livia was married to a man who was quite willing to have others of a lower rank outstrip him in extravagant living, so long as he had the power to decide whether or not it were best for the interests of the State that they be allowed to live at all; and as the Augusta had some influence in these decisions, she may have been able contentedly to visit the wife of Mæcenas, who lived in a house of far greater magnificence than her own. As the better class of Roman abodes were all constructed after the same general plan, it is not difficult, in imagination, out of the materials of information which we possess, to reërect upon its ruins, which still exist, the Domus Augustana.
The portico which adorned the outside extended the whole length of the front of the house, and possibly around the sides. It was a colonnade of native travertine--some of the later occupants of the imperial throne were hardly satisfied with the costliest marble. The vestibule was a large apartment, which was always freely open to clients and callers. The Salve inscribed or worked in mosaic upon the threshold of the outer door expressed the generous hospitality which characterized all Roman dwellings of that time. From the vestibule another door led to the atrium, the most important room in the house. It was large, and decorated with all the splendor which the wealth of the owner could warrant, and with such beauty as his taste might dictate. It was roofed, with the exception of an opening in the centre, called the compluvium, through which was admitted the rain water into a cistern in the floor. In the early times the atrium was the common room of the family, and in it were carried on the domestic occupations presided over by the mistress of the house, but in the days of Livia it was the audience chamber of the owner. The walls of this apartment were highly decorated with landscape paintings, or else lined with beautiful marbles. Some of the paintings which covered the walls of the Domus Augustana have been preserved, and in the great spaces through which they were seen their brilliant colors must have been very effective.
Opening from the atrium was the tablinum; here were the family archives, the statues, pictures, and other ancestral relics. Around these great apartments ware smaller chambers, which were commonly used for the lodging of guests, though it is probable that Livia's establishment included a house set apart for this purpose. Behind the apartments we have described, and reached through fauces, or narrow passages, was the real interior and private portion of the palace. First there came the peristyle. This was a large, oblong court, open to the sky in the middle and surrounded by a colonnade of polished marble pillars. The centre of this court was filled with shrubs and flowers, grown in great boxes of earth; and the beauty and comfort of this charming "drawing room" were enhanced by the cool fountains of water with which Rome was so bountifully supplied. Here was Livia's forum. Here was the fitting stage where she displayed those gifts of mind and graces of person which never lost their potent influence with her husband and gave her title of Augusta a real political significance.
Opening from the peristyle was the triclinium, or dining hall. It was here that the extravagance of the Romans was especially exhibited. In La Palais de Scaurus, by Mazois, there is a pen picture of a triclinium, every detail of which is authenticated by ancient authorities. It reveals a luxury and a disregard of expense to which our day furnishes no parallel. But the banquet hall of the Augustan house was not equipped in so costly a fashion; there was still cherished some remembrance of the ancient Sabine simplicity.
In addition to the apartments mentioned, there were spacious halls and salons used for such purpose as that of a picture gallery or a library. The bed chambers were usually placed between the outer walls of the house and the more important rooms; the only remarkable features about them were their smallness and inconvenience. There was an upper story, which was used principally for sleeping apartments, and probably there were no windows opening to the street except on this second floor. The rear part of the house was given up to the kitchen, the bakery, and the mill for grinding flour. Above all, in a literal and also commendatory sense of the word, was the solarium. This was a delightful retreat on the roof, furnished with plants, flowers, and fountains.
It was to such an abode as this that Livia came, and there brought her influence to bear on one of the most brilliant epochs of the world's history. After her repudiation by Antony, Octavia and her children also came to reside at the Domus Augustana; and there lived also the little Julia, the daughter of Scribonia and Octavius.
How early in her career Livia commenced laying her plans for the succession of her son to the imperial rule, we do not know; nor is there any certainty as to the extent of her culpability in carrying them out. It is most likely that her hope that she might bear a son to Augustus who would have an indisputable claim to the heritage allowed her at first to view with complacency the already existing putative but more removed successors. Time wore on, and her expectations failed of realization. Her sons, Tiberius and Drusus, were growing up, and both were manifesting those qualities which showed them worthy of taking the reins of government. The habit of exercising an influence in the affairs of State, through the confidence placed in her by her husband, made the prospect of having to relinquish that power, in the event of the death of Augustus, constantly more intolerable; but the woman who was called "a female Ulysses" was likely to win her way.
Julia, though the only child born in the purple, might not inherit the imperial sceptre, being a woman. But Octavia had a son of her first marriage, named Marcellus, of whom Augustus was especially fond. While he was but a youth of seventeen, Julia, then fourteen years old, was given to him in marriage; and thus it was hoped the succession would be continued by means of the union of the daughter and the nephew of the emperor. These anticipations were doomed to disappointment, as Marcellus died shortly after the marriage. One historian, Dion Cassius, informs us that it was whispered about that Livia was responsible for the death of Julia's husband, being jealous because Cæsar heaped upon him favors which were denied to her own sons; but, while relating this, the historian claims that it was a groundless accusation. However, we have it on the authority of so trustworthy a witness as Seneca that Octavia, in this sad bereavement, for once was unworthy of herself. He says that "she turned to hate all mothers, and the angry passion of her sorrow was directed principally against Livia, because that now the hope and prospects that had belonged to her own son were transferred to the son of Livia." Such unreasoning grief in this otherwise noble woman was a mark of common human frailty; but it does not present so pleasing a picture as that memorable scene in which Virgil, at the command of Augustus, read before Octavia the sixth book of his Æneid, in which he has commemorated Marcellus. Grief-stricken and dejected as she was, Octavia probably gave but little attention to the opening lines; but her interest was aroused as the poet proceeded to describe Æneas's visit to the under world, where dwelt those who had been dearest to her, and whither she knew herself to be rapidly tending. When she heard the lines--
"This youth, the blissful vision of a day, Shall just be shown on earth, then snatched away,"
she was startled by the description of her own son, and, hiding her face, she burst into tears; and when the poet uttered the words "Tu Marcellus eris," which he had wisely withheld to the end of the passage, she could endure no more and swooned because of the intensity of her sorrowful emotion. The information that she ordered Virgil to be presented with ten thousand sesterces for every line of the passage relating to her son is interesting, but does not add particularly to the beauty of the scene. Shortly after this, occurred her death. Augustus caused certain public buildings which he was at this time erecting to be dedicated in honor of his sister.
Now that Julia was married, she was freed to some extent from that severe discipline in which Augustus deemed it necessary to bring up the girls of his family. Her training had been very strict. She had even been obliged, at a time when other girls of far inferior birth were perfecting themselves in more fashionable accomplishments, to assist her aunt and her stepmother in spinning wool for her father's clothes. She was denied any freedom of intercourse with the youths of her own age. Augustus once wrote to a young nobleman: "You have not behaved with proper respect in paying a visit to my daughter at Baiæ." But natural inclination, always stronger than discipline in determining the direction of a moral career, led Julia into evil courses. For many years, however, her father saw nothing less innocent in her conduct than that wit and gayety of spirit which he easily condoned. She well knew how to turn the edge of the mild rebukes of a fond parent. On one occasion, seeing her surrounded at a public exhibition by a number of the young fashionables of the city, and noticing that she did not maintain that dignity of deportment which he thought becoming in the daughter of an emperor, Augustus wrote her a letter expressing his displeasure and holding up before her the example of Livia, who encouraged in her company none but "grave and reverend signiors." Julia had a ready reply; this was the note scribbled on a tablet and sent back to her father: "These young men will also have become old fogies by the time I am an old woman." One day, later in her life, her father found a slave engaged in plucking the gray hairs from his daughter's head. This operation suddenly ceased on his entrance, and he feigned not to have noticed it. Then he asked abruptly: "Julia, which would you rather be--gray or bald?" "Why, father, gray, of course," "You little liar," replied Augustus, "see here," and he held up some of the gray hairs which had fallen on her dressing gown.
Shortly after the death of Marcellus, Julia was again married, this time to the great warrior Agrippa, the staunch friend of her father. This also was distinctly a political marriage. Julia was eighteen, Agrippa was forty-two, while at the time of betrothal he was already wedded to Marcella, the daughter of Octavia. The usual divorce severed these bonds, and Marcella was given to Antonius, the son of the triumvir. Both Octavia and Scribonia were desirous of this matrimonial readjustment. They probably saw that Julia needed a firm disciplinarian like Agrippa to keep the questionable proclivities of her character from attaining too exuberant a freedom. It is also likely that they hoped that this union would result in heirs who would frustrate the expectations of Livia and her sons. But to their check thus played, Livia, in due time, answered with a decisive mate. To Julia and Agrippa there were born three sons and one daughter, named respectively Lucius, Caius, Agrippa Posthumus, and Julia. Thus Tacitus relates the dénouement: "Augustus had adopted Lucius and Caius into the Cæsarian family; and although they had not yet laid aside the puerile garment, his ambition was strong to see them declared princes of the Roman youth, and even mentioned for the consulship; at the same time, he affected to decline these honors for them. Upon the death of Agrippa, they were cut off, either by a decease premature but natural, or by the arts of their stepmother Livia: Lucius on his journey to the armies in Spain, Caius on his return from Armenia, ill of a wound. And as Drusus had been long since dead, Tiberius Nero was the only surviving stepson. On him every honor was accumulated, he was adopted by Augustus as his son and a colleague in the Empire ... and this was brought about, not by the secret machinations of his mother, as heretofore, but at her open suit. For over Augustus, now aged, she had obtained such absolute sway that he had banished his only surviving grandson, Agrippa Posthumus, a person of clownish brutality, with great bodily strength, but convicted of no heinous offence."
Julia had by this time worked out her own condemnation. Those stories of her flagrant misconduct which for years had been part of the common gossip of the baths and porticoes of the city at last reached the ears of her father. He tried not to believe them. Gazing fondly upon his only child, he said; "Just like her I am sure that Claudia must have looked, of whom our forefathers told that she was slandered. But she proved her innocence." Those to whom he said this listened respectfully; but behind his back they sneered. After Agrippa's death, Julia had made another political marriage. Tiberius had been compelled to put away his wife, Vipsania, the daughter of Agrippa, whom he dearly loved,--she was probably the only human being for whom this morose man ever had any real affection,--and was forced, much against his will, to replace her by Agrippa's widow. Tiberius knew Julia as her father did not; and, rather than live with her, he betook himself to a voluntary exile in Rhodes. By thus doing, he seemed to frustrate all his mother's plans for his advancement; but she, with deadly persistency, determined that there should be in Cæsar's family no other candidate for the imperial position, which must soon be vacated. There is some hint of Julia's misdoings coming to light through the discovery of a plot, in which Livia had no part, to shorten the emperor's days; but there is no proof, nor does it seem probable, that Julia was a conspirator against her father's life. She was probably the tool of others. Augustus, however, was constrained to institute an investigation, which revealed to him all the turpitude of his daughter's conduct; she was banished to an island in the Bay of Naples, and there strictly guarded until the day of her death.
The case of Julia gives no occasion for pity, except for the gray-haired old man who had lost by death all those upon whom he had rested his ambitious hopes for the future of his house. None were left save Livia,--probably Augustus himself never for a moment entertained a suspicion that his wife was the cause of his misfortunes,--Tiberius, whom he never loved, and this woman, whom he wished had died in her infancy. And yet the edge is taken from any sympathy one might have for Augustus, when it is remembered that, notwithstanding his stern demand for chastity on the part of the women of his own family and all of noble birth, his own conduct, if Suetonius reports truthfully, was no better than that of his daughter. But to condemn licentiousness in their women and to practise it themselves did not seem to the men of Rome to be either illogical or inconsistent.
Julia represented the prevalent social conditions of her time. Licentiousness, like a cancer, was eating into the heart of Roman society; and this was to grow still worse. It must be admitted also that female degeneracy kept pace with the increase of woman's influence in the political world. Livia and Agrippina the Elder were exceptions; but the rule was, and has been in all history, that the activity of women in State affairs was accompanied by an abundance of meretricious amatory intrigues. It is a remarkable fact that in the history of the Roman woman--and possibly this statement might be given a much wider application--there is no instance where any individual woman designedly helped to bring about the enactment of a law for the public weal. Female politics always had for their object the advancement of the female politician's own personal interests or those of some male favorite. And women could never have favorites outside their own families with safety to their honor. Whenever women have sought high favors either from men or for men, their personal charms have ever been their principal argument and illicit love their chief inducement.
One of the most radical of the early changes made in the Roman constitution was brought about by the piqued vanity of a woman. Fabius Ambustus, a man of power and renown in the ancient Republic, had two daughters. One of them was married to a patrician named Sulpicius, while the other was espoused to Stolo, a plebeian tribune. This office was the highest to which at the time a man of plebeian birth could lawfully aspire. One day the wife of Stolo, being at her sister's house, was startled by the sound of the lictor's staff at the door--a mode of announcement to which plebeian ears were unaccustomed. Being laughed at by Sulpicia, she went to her own home in high dudgeon, and henceforth neither Fabius Ambustus nor Stolo could gain any relief from her complaints until they had brought it to pass that the Senate consented to the conferring of magisterial office upon plebeians, with the consequence that her husband also might be attended by a lictor with his axe and rods. The story is important because it illustrates the greater portion of the Roman woman's interest in politics.
Livia was now the sole woman of influence in the imperial palace. Scribonia had voluntarily accompanied her daughter into exile; and the daughter of Julia, who had inherited both her mother's name and her failings, was banished from the city. It was not difficult now for Livia to secure the adoption of Tiberius by Augustus as his son and also as his heir. This, however, was not done without causing some misgivings in the minds of the Romans, who, as Tacitus says, feared to be under bondage to a woman "with the ungovernable spirit peculiar to her sex."
On the nineteenth of August, A.D. 14, Livia and the intimate friends of Augustus were gathered around the emperor's deathbed. "Tell me," said the great emperor, "have I played well my part?" Posterity has never questioned the nature or the truth of their answer. Then he said: "Let all applaud and clap their hands." His last words, which throw more light on the character of this great woman than all the good and bad that is said of her, were: "Livia! live mindful of our union; and now, farewell."
The Augusta had sent urgent messengers to recall her son; and she caused the people to be kept in ignorance of the true condition of her husband until the news of his death and of the succession of Tiberius could be announced at the same time. But, although she had labored so persistently, and, if the historians are correct, so unscrupulously, for the accession of her son, with the death of Augustus, Livia's power also came to an end. Tiberius was impatient of any female interference, even that of his mother. She was made priestess of the deified Augustus; but Tiberius declared that public honors should be adjudged to women with extreme moderation, and he refused to allow a lictor to be appointed for her service. Still, after a fashion of his own, he treated her with the greatest respect until the day of her death; and he always allowed her politic counsels to have considerable weight in his decisions, well aware that no one else would so jealously guard his interests.
There is one incident which redounds to the credit of Tiberius, whose sadly damaged reputation needs everything that can be said in his favor, and which is worth noticing because it not only illustrates his manner of dealing with the imperious Augusta, but also indicates the kind of purposes for which the political power of influential women was exercised. Livia, presuming on her position, demanded that Piso should be punished for insulting her by suing Urgulania, one of her favorites, for the payment of money which was clearly due to him. Tiberius refused so unjust a request, but gave his mother to understand that no less a person than himself would plead her cause before the judges. He fulfilled his word by loitering so long on his way to the court that by the time he reached it the judges had awarded the claimant his right, so that the empress found no way open by which she could save her friend except by paying the money herself.
Livia's old age was embittered to herself, and still more discredited with many of her contemporaries, by a new phase of the old feud which had for so long rent the imperial family. Agrippina, the daughter of Julia and Agrippa, had been married to Germanicus, the son of Antonia and the elder Drusus. In the wedded life of these two was exemplified an excellence of conjugal union that was almost perfect. Germanicus was a brave and able soldier and a man whose moral character was far superior to the standard of his time. Agrippina was a woman whose purity of life was worthy of the principles which guided the matrons of the ancient Republic, but whose disposition would not permit her to relinquish any privilege which was open to the women of the new times and warranted by her position.
Livia's grudge against Agrippina seems to have been a continuation of the old discord between the Claudian and the Julian branches of the governing house. Each of these women had her adherents, who by their machinations and recriminations made peace an utter stranger in the imperial palace. Livia, however, possessed a threefold advantage over Agrippina: the latter was precluded by her nature from adopting against an enemy any nefarious design--a scruple of which history has been able to discover no trace in the conduct of the former lady; the Augusta was strongly supported in her dislike by the Emperor Tiberius; and Agrippina was away from Rome a great part of the time. She elected to accompany her husband, even on his most dangerous expeditions. On one occasion, when their lives were threatened by the mutinous legions and he urged her to depart to safer quarters, she proudly answered that, being the granddaughter of the deified Augustus, she was not so degenerate as to shrink from danger.
To what extent this animosity between the two ladies was carried it is difficult to determine. Some historians claim that it resulted in placing another awful crime to Livia's account. Germanicus died in Seleucia in the thirty-fourth year of his age, of some mysterious malady; and there were many who at once whispered that Livia had been the means of bringing about his death by poisoning. But there is no proof of this, and a careful study of the known facts causes it to seem improbable. There was no motive for such an act, beyond the fact that the husband of Agrippina was exceedingly popular with the army and the people; but this was offset by his undoubted and enthusiastic devotion to Tiberius. The facts, so far as they are now ascertainable, are these: Piso, who was Proconsul of Syria, was instigated by his wife Plancina to acts of disrespect and animosity against Germanicus and Agrippina. This woman, who was of an exceedingly masculine temperament,--as is shown among other things by her habit of taking part in the exercises of the cavalry,--was a great favorite with Livia and shared her closest confidence. Plancina is said to have kept about her a woman named Martina, who had an evil reputation as being expert in the use of poisonous drugs, but of whose existence nothing more is known than the little that is told in this connection, Germanicus, on his deathbed, declared that he was cut short in his career by the dark devices of a woman. The news of his decease did not affect Livia with the same degree of sorrow as it did the populace; which fact tended to strengthen suspicion in the minds of the latter. But all this proves nothing, even though Piso, despairing of acquittal, destroyed himself during his trial, after having written a letter protesting his innocence. Nor does the fact that Plancina was protected by Livia furnish any proof that the aged and much-maligned empress was guilty of instigating the crime, if crime it was.
Agrippina, after the body of her husband had been burned on the funeral pyre, set forth in the depth of winter on her journey to Rome with his ashes. At every port where the fleet touched she received a sad but an imposing ovation. All the friends of her husband crowded to Brundusium, where she was to disembark; but they could not agree as to whether she should be received in respectful silence or with some more demonstrative expression of their sympathy. Tacitus thus depicts the affecting scene: "Nothing was settled when the fleet came sweeping slowly in, not rigged out in sprightly fashion, but wearing the ensigns of sadness. When, however, the widow descended from the ship, bearing the funeral urn in her hand, accompanied by her two infants and with her eyes steadily fixed on the ground, one simultaneous groan burst from the entire assemblage." Neither Tiberius, nor Livia, nor Antonia, the mother of Germanicus, attended the funeral. Tacitus gives the reasons that were alleged, but does not decide which was nearest the truth. "Tiberius and Livia either thought public lamentation beneath their dignity, or else they feared lest if folk peered into their faces their hypocrisy would be discovered. Whether sickness detained Antonia, or overmuch sorrow and inability to go through the ceremony, is not known. I would rather believe that she was held back by Tiberius and Livia, who did not leave the palace, that they might seem to mourn in private."
Agrippina had been exhorted by her dying husband, "as she would cherish his memory, and for the sake of their children, to divest herself of her unyielding spirit, and humble herself to Fortune in the storm of her displeasure; and, on her return to the city, not to irritate, in a competition for the mastery, those who were more than a match for her." Such advice given to a Roman matron would have appeared unnecessary to the men of the old regime; but there was now a throne in Rome, and consequently women jostled each other for the place of power behind it.
Agrippina needed just such counsel; but her nature would not allow her to profit by it. Irreproachable in her life, her virtues were not beautified by the divine gift of good humor; and she possessed no philosophy. Her mind was of that sort, more common among women than men, in which an idea having once been entertained is henceforth unassailable and undetachable by reason. Than this class of mind there is nothing more exasperating in human knowledge, and it is not to be wondered at that she irritated Tiberius. These two angered each other on every occasion of their meeting: the emperor by his cruel persecution of Agrippina's friends, and she him both by her air of martyrdom and by her evident and constant suspicion that he was planning some nefarious project against herself.
There lacked not ambitious men at the time who were ready to gather around the noble widow on the pretence of siding with her in her complaints against the emperor; they even sought to raise a party for the advantage of her children. She probably lent herself to some extent to these schemes, but not in sufficient degree to bring upon herself the violence of the suspicious and resentful Tiberius. Nevertheless, all her sons perished, except Caligula, whom a destiny unkind to the Roman people protected from the fate of his brothers.
Sejanus, the all-powerful favorite of the emperor, adroitly fanned the ever-smoldering animosity which naturally existed between Tiberius and Agrippina. He warned her to beware of poison, after having informed Tiberius that the matron suspected that the emperor had designs on her life. So, when the emperor politely handed her fruit, calling her attention to its excellence, she silently passed it to the slaves. "Can I avoid," he exclaimed to Livia, "treating this woman with harshness, when she accuses me to my face of seeking to poison her?"
The favorite Sejanus aimed at removing every heir to the imperial throne, in order that at the death of Tiberius he might rule in name, as he already did in effect. To achieve this end, he first seduced Livilla, the wife of the son of Drusus Tiberius; then he procured by her means the death of Drusus and asked Livilla in marriage. This the emperor refused. At length,--not, however, until after Agrippina's sons had been destroyed,--Antonia, the mother of Livilla, was constrained to write to Tiberius of the conspiracy of Sejanus, and by her means he was brought to justice. Livilla was starved to death by the command of her mother.
Livia seems to have been at all times an obedient and submissive wife. She was honored by the confidence of her husband. She shared in the knowledge of his deepest political projects, and her advice was asked in regard thereto. But there is no indication that she ever sought to dictate. It was otherwise, however, with Tiberius. Whether Livia considered that a mother's prerogative was more commanding than that of a wife, or that a larger share of the rule might be claimed by her on account of the fact that she had secured it for Tiberius, certain it is that the latter found there was not enough room for himself and the Augusta in the imperial palace. Suetonius informs us that on one occasion, when Tiberius had haughtily objected to his mother's sharing the government with him, Livia produced some letters which Augustus had written to her complaining of the pride and arrogance of Tiberius. The discovery that his mother had treasured these letters against him for so many years so wounded the emperor that he immediately left the city, and he never again saw his mother except for a few hours on one occasion.
It is said that during her last days, when there was little more to hope for and nothing else to do, Livia strove to defend Agrippina from the machinations of Sejanus and the hatred of Tiberius. For twenty years she had done somewhat to relieve the hardship of her daughter-in-law Julia's exile; but she never sought to have her recalled. Tacitus says that, having secretly overthrown her stepchildren in their prosperity, it was her custom to make an open show of compassion toward them in their adversity.
Livia the Augusta died in A.D. 29, at the age of eighty-five. The verdict of the historian is that she had been a stepmother to the commonwealth of Rome; and this perhaps expresses her politics better than any other term that could be employed. A faithful wife, a fond mother, she had relentlessly witnessed the removal of every obstacle in the way of Tiberius. For the sake of her son, she had done and suffered everything; for the people, she had done nothing. Her powerful influence had at all times been directed by her emotions; and if we should carry the study to the end of the Empire, bringing into review all the consorts and female associates of the emperors, this would still be the summary of the story of the Roman woman in politics.
Tiberius refused to permit the apotheosis of Livia; but after his death the highest honors which a superstitious people could devise were paid to her memory. Claudius caused her to be deified, and the worship of Livia was constituted one of the functions of the Vestals. An idealized statue of her was placed in the temple of Augustus. Medals were impressed with the image of her head, and it was ordered that when the women of Rome had occasion to swear, it should be "By Livia."
On the whole, the Roman people, who understood Livia's character better than it is possible for us to do at this late day, judged her very kindly. Her virtues, which were conjugal and domestic, were always popularly respected, though not generally followed. Her pride and cruel vices were readily condoned, because they were considered indispensable to the policy of rulers. Her husband was a successful statesman; he maintained his position on the throne and accomplished much for the best interests of the Empire. Livia was a successful politician; she kept the people enamored of her supremacy, but furthered no interests save those of herself and her son.
Soon after the death of Livia, Agrippina was banished to the island of Pandataria, where her mother Julia had been confined for so many repentant years. It seems that her redoubtable spirit would not allow her to submit to this tyranny without a struggle; and so brutal were the soldiers in enforcing the emperor's command upon her who had once been known as "The Mother of the Camps," that she lost the sight of one of her eyes. After four years of miserable exile, she ended her life in the "high Roman manner" by voluntary starvation.
In the Capitol Museum there is a seated figure of Agrippina. It is one of the noblest pieces of statuary in the world. In it is seen none of that feminine sweetness which endeared the young wife of Germanicus to the hearts of the Roman legions; but there is that proud consciousness of moral dignity which Livia could not rival and that imperial manner which Tiberius could not cow. It is a sad, strong-hearted woman. One could fancy that a composite of all the noblest Roman matrons might have made just such a picture. Or it might be the goddess Roma, in whose personification are included the femininity of her daughters and also the sternness of her sons.
In the daughter of Germanicus we have another Agrippina, who was a much more adroit politician than her mother. She was shrewder even than Livia, and more unprincipled; and was favored beyond parallel in position, for she was daughter by adoption of Tiberius, mother of Nero, sister of Caligula, and wife of Claudius. The last mentioned relation gave her a much more effective position of vantage than Livia had enjoyed--first, on account of Claudius's incapacity, and also because the Romans had allowed themselves to drift further away from the old republican ideas. Hereafter we shall study the character of Agrippina and shall be compelled to place her among those notorious women who helped to make the Neronian age the most corrupt period in the world's history. Here we notice but briefly her political ambitions. She managed the emperor, securing with slight persuasion the appointment or the dismissal of the most important State officers. She established colonies in her own name. Nor was she satisfied to remain merely the power behind the throne. When Caractacus the British king was carried prisoner to Rome, and for his courageous bearing gained for himself his wife and his brothers from the emperor, the prisoners did homage not only to Claudius, but also to Agrippina. The empress occupied a second throne and received an equal share of the gratitude of the prisoners and the plaudits of the people. Here was seen, as Tacitus remarks, a spectacle strange and unauthorized by any former custom. A woman had never before presided over the Roman ensigns. Agrippina boldly claimed to be a partner in the Empire which her ancestors had wrested from the ancient republican suffrage.
It was with Agrippina the Second as it had been with Livia, every political aspiration was concentrated upon one object--the elevation of her own son to the imperial rule, and all the activities emanating from her energetic, resourceful nature were employed in hewing a path for Nero's advancement. Woe befell the persons who stood in that path or seemed likely at any time to have it in their power and inclination to impede that advancement. They were ruthlessly cut down in that unrelenting manner of which only an ambitious woman is capable. There were no public works, nothing broad-minded, no thought of the common good: the sole motif of the Roman woman in politics was personal preferment.