[Frontispiece: Livia, the wife of Augustus, superintending the weaving of robes for her family.]
THE WOMEN OF THE CAESARS
THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1911, by
THE CENTURY CO.
Published, October, 1911
THE DEVINNE PRESS
I WOMAN AND MARRIAGE IN ANCIENT ROME
II LIVIA AND JULIA
III THE DAUGHTERS OF AGRIPPA
IV TIBERIUS AND AGRIPPINA
V THE SISTERS OF CALIGULA AND THE MARRIAGE OF MESSALINA
VI AGRIPPINA, THE MOTHER OF NERO
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Livia, the Wife of Augustus, Superintending the Weaving of Robes for her Family . . . Frontispiece
A Roman Marriage Custom
Eumachia, a Public Priestess of Ancient Rome
The Forum under the Caesars
The So-called Bust of Cicero
The Sister of M. Nonius Balbus
Livia, the Mother of Tiberius, in the Costume of a Priestess
The Young Augustus
The Emperor Augustus
A Silver Denarius of the Second Triumvirate
Silver Coin Bearing the Head of Julius Caesar
The Great Paris Cameo
Octavia, the Sister of Augustus
A Reception at Livia's Villa
Antony and Cleopatra
Tiberius, Elder Son of Livia and Stepson of Augustus
Drusus, the Younger Brother of Tiberius
Statue of a Young Roman Woman
A Roman Girl of the Time of the Caesars
Costumes of Roman Men, Women, and Children in the Procession of a Peace Festival
Bust of Tiberius in the Museo Nazionale, Naples
Types of Head-dresses Worn in the Time of the Women of the Caesars
A Roman Feast in the Time of the Caesars
Depositing the Ashes of a Member of the Imperial Family in a Roman Columbarium
The Starving Livilla Refusing Food
Costume of a Chief Vestal (Virgo Vestalis Maxima)
Remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins
Bust, Supposed to be of Antonia, Daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, and Mother of Germanicus, in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence
A Bronze Sestertius (Slightly Enlarged), Showing the Sisters of Caligula (Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla) on One Side and Germanicus on the Other Side
A Bronze Sestertius with the Head of Agrippina the Elder, Daughter of Agrippa and Julia, the Daughter of Augustus
Claudius, Messalina, and Their Two Children in What is Known as the "Hague Cameo"
Remains of the Bridge of Caligula in the Palace of the Caesars
The Emperor Caligula
The Emperor Claudius
Messalina, Third Wife of Claudius
The Philosopher Seneca
The Emperor Nero
Agrippina the Younger, Sister of Caligula and Mother of Nero
Statue of Agrippina the Younger, in the Capitoline Museum, Rome
Agrippina the Younger
The Emperor Nero
The Death of Agrippina
WOMEN OF THE CAESARS
WOMAN AND MARRIAGE IN ANCIENT ROME
"Many things that among the Greeks are considered improper and unfitting," wrote Cornelius Nepos in the preface to his "Lives," "are permitted by our customs. Is there by chance a Roman who is ashamed to take his wife to a dinner away from home? Does it happen that the mistress of the house in any family does not enter the anterooms frequented by strangers and show herself among them? Not so in Greece: there the woman accepts invitations only among families to which she is related, and she remains withdrawn in that inner part of the house which is called the gynaeceum, where only the nearest relatives are admitted."
This passage, one of the most significant in all the little work of Nepos, draws in a few, clear, telling strokes one of the most marked distinctions between the Greco-Asiatic world and the Roman. Among ancient societies, the Roman was probably that in which, at least among the better classes, woman enjoyed the greatest social liberty and the greatest legal and economic autonomy. There she most nearly approached that condition of moral and civil equality with man which makes her his comrade, and not his slave—that equality in which modern civilization sees one of the supreme ends of moral progress.
The doctrine held by some philosophers and sociologists, that military peoples subordinate woman to a tyrannical regime of domestic servitude, is wholly disproved by the history of Rome. If there was ever a time when the Roman woman lived in a state of perennial tutelage, under the authority of man from birth to death—of the husband, if not of the father, or, if not of father or husband, of the guardian—that time belongs to remote antiquity.
When Rome became the master state of the Mediterranean world, and especially during the last century of the republic, woman, aside from a few slight limitations of form rather than of substance, had already acquired legal and economic independence, the condition necessary for social and moral equality. As to marriage, the affianced pair could at that time choose between two different legal family regimes: marriage with manus, the older form, in which all the goods of the wife passed to the ownership of the husband, so that she could no longer possess anything in her own name; or marriage without manus, in which only the dower became the property of the husband, and the wife remained mistress of all her other belongings and all that she might acquire. Except in some cases, and for special reasons, in all the families of the aristocracy, by common consent, marriages, during the last centuries of the republic, were contracted in the later form; so that at that time married women directly and openly had gained economic independence.
During the same period, indirectly, and by means of juridical evasions, this independence was also won by unmarried women, who, according to ancient laws, ought to have remained all their lives under a guardian, either selected by the father in his will or appointed by the law in default of such selection. To get around this difficulty, the fertile and subtle imagination of the jurists invented first the tutor optivus, permitting the father, instead of naming his daughter's guardian in his will, to leave her free to choose one general guardian or several, according to the business in hand, or even to change that official as many times as she wished.
To give the woman means to change her legitimate guardian at pleasure, if her father had provided none by will, there was invented the tutor cessicius, thereby allowing the transmission of a legal guardianship. However, though all restrictions imposed upon the liberty of the unmarried woman by the institution of tutelage disappeared, one limitation continued in force—she could not make a will. Yet even this was provided for, either by fictitious marriage or by the invention of the tutor fiduciarius. The woman, without contracting matrimony, gave herself by coemptio (purchase) into the manus of a person of her trust, on the agreement that the coemptionator would free her: he became her guardian in the eyes of the law.
There was, then, at the close of the republic little disparity in legal condition between the man and the woman. As is natural, to this almost complete legal equality there was united an analogous moral and social equality. The Romans never had the idea that between the mundus muliebris (woman's world) and that of men they must raise walls, dig ditches, put up barricades, either material or moral. They never willed, for example, to divide women from men by placing between them the ditch of ignorance. To be sure, the Roman dames of high society were for a long time little instructed, but this was because, moreover, the men distrusted Greek culture. When literature, science, and Hellenic philosophy were admitted into the great Roman families as desired and welcome guests, neither the authority, nor the egoism, nor yet the prejudices of the men, sought to deprive women of the joy, the comfort, the light, that might come to them from these new studies. We know that many ladies in the last two centuries of the republic not only learned to dance and to sing,—common feminine studies, these,—but even learned Greek, loved literature, and dabbled in philosophy, reading its books or meeting with the famous philosophers of the Orient.
Moreover, in the home the woman was mistress, at the side of and on equality with her husband. The passage I have quoted from Nepos proves that she was not segregated, like the Greek woman: she received and enjoyed the friends of her husband, was present with them at festivals and banquets in the houses of families with whom she had friendly relations, although at such banquets she might not, like the man, recline, but must, for the sake of greater modesty, sit at table. In short, she was not, like the Greek woman, shut up at home, a veritable prisoner.
She might go out freely; this she did generally in a litter. She was never excluded from theaters, even though the Roman government tried as best it could for a long period to temper in its people the passion for spectacular entertainments. She could frequent public places and have recourse directly to the magistrates. We have record of the assembling and of demonstrations made by the richest women of Rome in the Forum and other public places, to obtain laws and other provisions from the magistrates, like that famous demonstration of women that Livy describes as having occurred in the year 195 B.C., to secure the abolition of the Oppian Law against luxury.
What more? We have good reason for holding that already under the republic there existed at Rome a kind of woman's club, which called itself conventus matronarum and gathered together the dames of the great families. Finally, it is certain that many times in critical moments the government turned directly and officially to the great ladies of Rome for help to overcome the dangers that menaced public affairs, by collecting money, or imploring with solemn religious ceremonies the favor of the gods.
One understands then, how at all times there were at Rome women much interested in public affairs. The fortunes of the powerful families, their glory, their dominance, their wealth, depended on the vicissitudes of politics and of war. The heads of these families were all statesmen, diplomats, warriors; the more intelligent and cultivated the wife, and the fonder she was of her husband, the intenser the absorption with which she must have followed the fortunes of politics, domestic and foreign; for with these were bound up many family interests, and often even the life of her husband.
Was the Roman family, then, the reader will demand at this point, in everything like the family of contemporary civilization? Have we returned upon the long trail to the point reached by our far-away forebears?
No. If there are resemblances between the modern family and the Roman, there are also crucial differences. Although the Roman was disposed to allow woman judicial and economic independence, a refined culture, and that freedom without which it is impossible to enjoy life in dignified and noble fashion, he was never ready to recognize in the way modern civilization does more or less openly, as ultimate end and reason for marriage, either the personal happiness of the contracting parties or their common personal moral development in the unifying of their characters and aspirations. The individualistic conception of matrimony and of the family attained by our civilization was alien to the Roman mind, which conceived of these from an essentially political and social point of view. The purpose of marriage was, so to speak, exterior to the pair. As untouched by any spark of the metaphysical spirit as he was unyielding—at least in action—to every suggestion of the philosophic; preoccupied only in enlarging and consolidating the state of which he was master, the Roman aristocrat never regarded matrimony and the family, just as he never regarded religion and law, as other than instruments for political domination, as means for increasing and establishing the power of every great family, and by family affiliations to strengthen the association of the aristocracy, already bound together by political interest.
For this reason, although the Roman conceded many privileges and recognized many rights among women, he never went so far as to think that a woman of great family could aspire to the right of choosing her own husband. Custom, indeed, much restricted the young man also, at least in a first marriage. The choice rested with the fathers, who were accustomed to affiance their sons early, indeed when mere boys. The heads of two friendly families would find themselves daily together in the struggle of the Forum and the Comitia, or in the deliberations of the Senate. Did the idea occur to both that their children, if affianced then, at seven or eight years of age, might cement more closely the union of the two families, then straightway the matter was definitely arranged. The little girl was brought up with the idea that some day, as soon as might be, she should marry that boy, just as for two centuries in the famous houses of Catholic countries many of the daughters were brought up in the expectation that one day they should take the veil.
Every one held this Roman practice as reasonable, useful, equitable; to no one did the idea occur that by it violence was done to the most intimate sentiment of liberty and independence that a human being can know. On the contrary, according to the common judgment, the well-governing of the state was being wisely provided for, and these alliances were destroying the seeds of discord that spontaneously germinate in aristocracy and little by little destroy it, like those plants sown by no man's hand, which thrive upon old walls and become their ruin.
This is why one knows of every famous Roman personage how many wives he had and of what family they were. The marriage of a Roman noble was a political act, and noteworthy; because a youth, or even a mature man, connecting himself with certain families, came to assume more or less fully the political responsibilities in which, for one cause or another, they were involved. This was particularly true in the last centuries of the republic,—that is, beginning from the Gracchi,—when for the various reasons which I have set forth in my "Greatness and Decline of Rome," the Roman aristocracy divided into two inimical parties, one of which attempted to rouse against the other the interests, the ambitions, and the cupidity, of the middle and lower classes. The two parties then sought to reinforce themselves by matrimonial alliances, and these followed the ups and downs of the political struggle that covered Rome with blood. Of this fact the story of Julius Caesar is a most curious proof.
The prime reason for Julius Caesar's becoming the chief of the popular party is to be found neither in his ambitions nor in his temperament, and even less in his political opinions, but in his relationship to Marius. An aunt of Caesar had married Caius Marius, the modest bankrupt farmer of revenues, who, having entered politics, had become the first general of his time, had been elected consul six times, and had conquered Jugurtha, the Cimbri, and the Teutons. The self-made man had become famous and rich, and in the face of an aristocracy proud of its ancestors, had tried to ennoble his obscure origin by taking his wife from an ancient and most noble, albeit impoverished and decayed, patrician family.
But when there broke out the revolution in which Marius placed himself at the head of the popular party, and the revolution was overcome by Sulla, the old aristocracy, which had conquered with Sulla, did not forgive the patrician family of the Julii for having connected itself with that bitter foe, who had made so much mischief. Consequently, during the period of the reaction, all its members were looked upon askance, and were suspected and persecuted, among them young Caesar, who was in no way responsible for the deeds of his uncle, since he was only a lad during the war between Sulla and Marius.
This explains how it was that the first wife of Caesar, Cossutia, was the daughter of a knight; that is, of a financier and revenue-farmer. For a young man belonging to a family of ancient senatorial nobility, this marriage was little short of a mesalliance; but Caesar had been engaged to this girl when still a very young man, at the time when, the alliance between Marius and the knights being still firm and strong, the marriage of a rich knight's daughter would mean to the nephew of Marius, not only a considerable fortune, but also the support of the social class which at that moment was predominant. For reasons unknown to us, Caesar soon repudiated Cossutia, and before the downfall of the democratic party he was married to Cornelia, who was the daughter of Cinna, the democratic consul and a most distinguished member of the party of Marius. This second marriage, the causes of which must be sought for in the political status of Caesar's family, was the cause of his first political reverses. For Sulla tried to force Caesar to repudiate Cornelia, and in consequence of his refusal, he came to be considered an enemy by Sulla and his party and was treated accordingly.
It is known that Cornelia died when still very young, after only a few years of married life, and that Caesar's third marriage in the year 68 B.C., was quite different from his first and second, since the third wife, Pompeia, belonged to one of the noblest families of the conservative aristocracy—was, in fact, a niece of Sulla. How could the nephew of Marius, who had escaped as by miracle the proscriptions of Sulla, ever have married the latter's niece? Because in the dozen years intervening between 80 and 68, the political situation had gradually grown calmer, and a new air of conciliation had begun to blow through the city, troubled by so much confusion, burying in oblivion the bloodiest records of the civil war, calling into fresh life admiration for Marius, that hero who had conquered the Cimbri and the Teutons. In that moment, to be a nephew of Marius was no longer a crime among any of the great families; for some, on the contrary, it was coming to be the beginning of glory. But that situation was short-lived. After a brief truce, the two parties again took up a bitter war, and for his fourth wife Caesar chose Calpurnia, the daughter of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, consul in 58, and a most influential senator of the popular party.
Whoever studies the history of the influential personages of Caesar's time, will find that their marriages follow the fortunes of the political situation. Where a purely political reason was wanting, there was the economic. A woman could aid powerfully a political career in two ways: by ably administering the household and by contributing to its expenses her dower or her personal fortune. Although the Romans gave their daughters an education relatively advanced, they never forgot to inculcate in them the idea that it was the duty of a woman, especially if she was nobly born, to know all the arts of good housewifery, and especially, as most important, spinning and weaving. The reason for this lay in the fact that for the aristocratic families, who were in possession of vast lands and many flocks, it was easy to provide themselves from their own estates with the wool necessary to clothe all their household, from masters to the numerous retinue of slaves. If the materfamilias knew sufficiently well the arts of spinning and weaving to be able to organize in the home a small "factory" of slaves engaged in such tasks, and knew how to direct and survey them, to make them work with zeal and without theft, she could provide the clothing for the whole household, thus saving the heavy expense of buying the stuffs from a merchant—notable economy in times when money was scarce and every family tried to make as little use of it as possible. The materfamilias held, then, in every home, a prime industrial office, that of clothing the entire household, and in proportion to her usefulness in this office was she able to aid or injure the family.
More important still were the woman's dower and her personal fortune. The Romans not only considered it perfectly honorable, sagacious, and praiseworthy for a member of the political aristocracy to marry a rich woman for her wealth, the better to maintain the luster of his rank, or the more easily to fulfil his particular political and social duties, but they also believed there could be no better luck or greater honor for a rich woman than for this reason to marry a prominent man. They exacted only that she be of respectable habits, and even in this regard it appears that, during certain tumultuous periods, they sometimes shut one eye.
Tradition says, for example, that Sulla, born of a noble family, quite in ruin, owed his money to the bequest of a Greek woman whose wealth had the most impure origin that the possessions of a woman can possibly have. Is this tradition only the invention of the enemies of the terrible dictator? In any event, how people of good standing felt in this matter in normal times is shown by the life of Cicero.
Cicero was born at Arpino, of a knightly family, highly respectable, and well educated, but not rich. That he was able to pursue his brilliant forensic and political career, was chiefly due to his marriage to Terentia, who, although not very rich, had more than he, and by her fortune enabled him to live at Rome. But it is well known that after long living together happily enough, as far as can be judged, Cicero and Terentia, already old, fell into discord and in 46 B.C. ended by being divorced. The reasons for the divorce are not exactly clear, but from Cicero's letters it appears that financial motives and disputes were not wanting. It seems that during the civil wars Terentia refused to help Cicero with her money to the extent he desired; that is to say, at some tremendous moment of those turbulent years she was unwilling to risk all her patrimony on the uncertain political fortune of her husband.
Cicero's divorce, obliging him to return the dower, reduced him to the gravest straits, from which he emerged through another marriage. He was the guardian of an exceedingly rich young woman, named Publilia, and one fine day, at the age of sixty-three, he joined hands with this seventeen-year-old girl, whose possessions were to rehabilitate the great writer.
This conception of matrimony and of the family may seem unromantic, prosaic, materialistic; but we must not suppose that because of it the Romans failed to experience the tenderest and sweetest affections of the human heart. The letters of Cicero himself show how tenderly even Romans could love wife and children. Although they distrusted and combatted as dangerous to the prosperity and well-being of the state those dearest and gentlest personal affections that in our times literature, music, religion, philosophy, and custom have educated, encouraged, and exalted, as one of the supreme fountains of civil life, should we therefore reckon them barbarians? We must not forget the great diversity between our times and theirs. The confidence which modern men repose in love as a principle, in its ultimate wisdom, in its beneficial influence or the affairs of the world; in the idea that every man has the right to choose for himself the person of the opposite sex toward whom the liveliest and strongest personal attraction impels him—these are the supreme blossoms of modern individualism, the roots of which have been able to fasten only in the rich soil of modern civilization.
The great ease of living that we now enjoy, the lofty intellectual development of our day, permit us to relax the severe discipline that poorer times and peoples, constrained to lead a harder life, had to impose upon themselves. Although the habit may seem hard and barbarous, certainly almost all the great peoples of the past, and the majority of those contemporary who live outside our civilization, have conceived and practised matrimony not as a right of sentiment, but as a duty of reason. To fulfil it, the young have turned to the sagacity of the aged, and these have endeavored to promote the success of marriage not merely to the satisfaction of a single passion, usually as brief as it is ardent, but according to a calculated equilibrium of qualities, tendencies, and material means.
The principles regulating Roman marriage may seem to us at variance with human nature, but they are the principles to which all peoples wishing to trust the establishment of the family not to passion as mobile as the sea, but to reason, have had recourse in times when the family was an organism far more essential than it is to-day, because it held within itself many functions, educational, industrial, and political, now performed by other institutions. But reason itself is not perfect. Like passion, it has its weakness, and marriage so conceived by Rome produced grave inconveniences, which one must know in order to understand the story, in many respects tragic, of the women of the Caesars.
The first difficulty was the early age at which marriages took place among the aristocracy. The boys were almost always married at from eighteen to twenty; the girls, at from thirteen to fifteen. This disadvantage is to be found in all society in which marriage is arranged by the parents, because it would be next to impossible to induce young people to yield to the will of their elders in an affair in which the passions are readily aroused if they were allowed to reach the age when the passions are strongest and the will has become independent Hardly out of childhood, the man and the woman are naturally more tractable. On the other hand, it is easy to see how many dangers threatened such youthful marriages in a society where matrimony gave to the woman wide liberty, placing her in contact with other men, opening to her the doors of theaters and public resorts, leading her into the midst of all the temptations and illusions of life.
The other serious disadvantage was the facility of divorce. For the very reason that matrimony was for the nobility a political act, the Romans were never willing to allow that it could be indissoluble; indeed, even when the woman was in no sense culpable, they reserved to the man the right of undoing it at any time he wished, solely because that particular marriage did not suit his political interests. And the marriage could be dissolved by the most expeditious means, without formality—by a mere letter! Nor was that enough. Fearing that love might outweigh reason and calculation in the young, the law granted to the father the right to give notice of divorce to the daughter-in-law, instead of leaving it to the son; so that the father was able to make and unmake the marriages of his sons, as he thought useful and fitting, without taking their will into account.
The woman, therefore, although in the home she was of sovereign equality with the man and enjoyed a position full of honor, was, notwithstanding, never sure of the future. Neither the affection of her husband nor the stainlessness of her life could insure that she should close her days in the house whither she had come in her youth as a bride. At any hour the fatalities of politics could, I will not say, drive her forth, but gently invite her exit from the house where her children were born. An ordinary letter was enough to annul a marriage. So it was that, particularly in the age of Caesar when politics were much perturbed and shifting, there were not a few women of the aristocracy who had changed husbands three or four times, and that not for lightness or caprice or inconstancy of tastes, but because their fathers, their brothers, sometimes their sons, had at a certain moment besought or constrained them to contract some particular marriage that should serve their own political ends.
It is easy to comprehend how this precariousness discouraged woman from austere and rigorous virtues, the very foundation of the family; how it was a continuous incitement to frivolity of character, to dissipation, to infidelity. Consequently, the liberty the Romans allowed her must have been much more dangerous than the greater freedom she enjoys today, since it lacked its modern checks and balances, such as personal choice in marriage, the relatively mature age at which marriages are nowadays made, the indissolubility of the matrimonial contract, or, rather, the many and diverse restrictions placed upon divorce, by which it is no longer left to the arbitrary will or the mere fancy of the man.
In brief, there was in the constitution of the Roman family a contradiction, which must be well apprehended if one would understand the history of the great ladies of the imperial era. Rome desired woman in marriage to be the pliable instrument of the interests of the family and the state, but did not place her under the despotism of customs, of law, and of the will of man in the way done by all other states that have exacted from her complete self-abnegation. Instead, it accorded to her almost wholly that liberty, granted with little danger by civilizations like ours, in which she may live not only for the family, for the state, for the race, but also for herself. Rome was unwilling to treat her as did the Greek and Asiatic world, but it did not on this account give up requiring of her the same total self-abnegation for the public weal, the utter obliviousness to her own aspirations and passions, in behalf of the race.
This contradiction explains to us one of the fundamental phenomena of the history of Rome—the deep, tenacious, age-long puritanism of high Roman society. Puritanism was the chief expedient by which Rome attempted to solve the contradiction. That coercion which the Oriental world had tried to exercise upon woman by segregating her, keeping her ignorant, terrorizing her with threats and punishments, Rome sought to secure by training. It inculcated in every way by means of education, religion, and opinion the idea that she should be pious, chaste, faithful, devoted alone to her husband and children; that luxury, prodigality, dissoluteness, were horrible vices, the infamy of which hopelessly degraded all that was best and purest in woman. It tried to protect the minds of both men and women from all those influences of art, literature, and religion which might tend to arouse the personal instinct and the longing for love; and for a long time it distrusted, withstood, and almost sought to disguise the mythology, the arts, and the literature of Greece, as well as many of the Asiatic religions, imbued as they were with an erotic spirit of subtle enticement. Puritanism is essentially an intense effort to rouse in the mind the liveliest repulsion for certain vices and pleasures, and a violent dread of them; and Rome made use of it to check and counterbalance the liberty of woman, to impede and render more difficult the abuses of such liberty, particularly prodigality and dissoluteness.
It is therefore easy to understand how this puritanism was a thing serious, weighty, and terrible, in Roman life; and how from it could be born the tragedies we have to recount. It was the chief means of solving one of the gravest problems that has perplexed all civilizations—the problem of woman and her freedom, a problem earnest, difficult, and complex which springs up everywhere out of the unobstructed anarchy and the tremendous material prosperity of the modern world. And the difficulty of the problem consists, above all, in this: that, although it is a hard, cruel, plainly iniquitous thing to deprive a woman of liberty and subject her to a regime of tyranny in order to constrain her to live for the race and not for herself, yet when liberty is granted her to live for herself, to satisfy her personal desires, she abuses that liberty more readily than a man does, and more than a man forgets her duties toward the race.
She abuses it more readily for two reasons: because she exercises a greater power over man than he over her; and because, in the wealthier classes, she is freer from the political and economic responsibilities that bind the man. However unbridled the freedom that man enjoys, however vast his egoism, he is always constrained in a certain measure to check his selfish instincts by the need of conserving, enlarging, and defending against rivals his social, economic, and political situation.
But the woman? If she is freed from family cares, if she is authorized to live for her own gratification and for her beauty; if the opinion that imposes upon her, on pain of infamy, habits pure and honest, weakens; if, instead of infamy, dissoluteness brings her glory, riches, homage, what trammel can still restrain in her the selfish instincts latent in every human being? She runs the mighty danger of changing into an irresponsible being who will be the more admired and courted and possessed of power—at least as long as her beauty lasts—the more she ignores every duty, subordinating all good sense to her own pleasure.
This is the reason why woman, in periods commanded by strong social discipline, is the most beneficent and tenacious among the cohesive forces of a nation; and why, in times when social discipline is relaxed, she is, instead, through ruinous luxury, dissipation, and voluntary sterility, the most terrible force for dissolution.
One of the greatest problems of every epoch and all civilizations is to find a balance between the natural aspiration for freedom that is none other than the need of personal felicity—a need as lively and profound in the heart of woman as of man—and the supreme necessity for a discipline without which the race, the state, and the family run the gravest danger. Yet this problem to-day, in the unmeasured exhilaration with which riches and power intoxicate the European-American civilization, is considered with the superficial frivolity and the voluble dilettantism that despoil or confuse all the great problems of esthetics, philosophy, statesmanship, and morality. We live in the midst of what might be called the Saturnalia of the world's history; and in the midst of the swift and easy labor, the inebriety of our continual festivities, we feel no more the tragic in life. This short history of the women of the Caesars will set before the eyes of this pleasure-loving contemporary age tragedies among whose ruins our ancestors lived from birth to death, and by which they tempered their minds.
LIVIA AND JULIA
In the year 38 B.C. it suddenly became known at Rome that C. Julius Caesar Octavianus (afterward the Emperor Augustus), one of the triumvirs of the republic, and colleague of Mark Antony and Lepidus in the military dictatorship established after the death of Caesar, had sent up for decision to the pontifical college, the highest religious authority of the state, a curious question. It was this: Might a divorced woman who was expecting to become a mother contract a marriage with another man before the birth of her child? The pontifical college replied that if there still was doubt about the fact the new marriage would not be permissible; but if it was certain, there would be no impediment. A few days later, it was learned that Octavianus had divorced his wife Scribonia and had married Livia, a young woman of nineteen. Livia's physical condition was precisely that concerning which the pontiffs had been asked to decide, and in order to enter into this marriage she had obtained a divorce from Tiberius Claudius Nero.
The two divorces and the new marriage were concluded with unwonted haste. The first husband of Livia, acting the part of a father, gave her a dowry for her new alliance and was present at the wedding. Thus Livia suddenly passed into the house of her new husband where, three months later, she gave birth to a son, who was called Drusus Claudius Nero. This child Octavianus immediately sent to the house of its father.
To us, marriage customs of this sort seem brutal, shameless, and almost ridiculous. We should infer that a woman who lent herself to such barter and exchange must be a person of light manners and of immoral inclinations. At Rome, however, no one would have been amazed at such a marriage or at the procedure adopted, had it not been for the extraordinary haste, which seemed to indicate that it was undesirable or impossible to wait until Livia should have given birth to her child, and which made it necessary to trouble the pontifical college for its somewhat sophistical consent. For all were accustomed to seeing the marriages of great personages made and unmade in this manner and on such bases. Why, then, were these nuptials so precipitately concluded, apparently with the consent of all concerned? Why did they all, Livia and Octavianus not less than Tiberius Claudius Nero, seem so impatient that everything should be settled with despatch?
The legend which then formed about the family of Augustus, a legend hostile at almost every point, has interpreted this marriage as a tyrannical act, virtually an abduction, by the dissolute and perverse triumvir. I, too, in my "Greatness and Decline of Rome" expressed my belief that this haste, at least, was the effect not of political motives but of a passionate love inspired in the young triumvir by the very beautiful Livia. A longer reflection upon this episode has persuaded me, however, that there is another manner, less poetic perhaps, but more Roman, of explaining, at least in part, this famous alliance, which was to have so great an importance in the history of Rome.
To arrive at the motives of this marriage we must consider who was Livia and who was Octavianus. Livia was a woman of great beauty, as her portraits prove. But this was not all. She belonged also to two of the most ancient and conspicuous families of the Roman nobility. Her father, Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, was by birth a Claudius, adopted by a Livius Drusus. He was descended from Appius the Blind, the famous censor and perhaps the most illustrious personage of the ancient republic. His grandfather, his great-grand-father, and his great-great-grandfather had been consuls, and consuls and censors may be found in the collateral branches of the family. A sister of his grandfather had been the wife of Tiberius Gracchus; a cousin of his father had married Lucullus, the great general. He came, therefore, of one of the most ancient and glorious families. Not less noble was the family of the Livii Drusi who had adopted him. It counted eight consulships, two censorships, three triumphs, and one dictatorship. Thus the father of Livia belonged by birth and adoption to two of those ancient, aristocratic families which for a long time and even in the midst of the most tremendous revolutions the people had venerated as semi-divine and into whose story was interwoven the history of the great republic. Nor had the first husband given to Livia been less noble, for Tiberius Claudius Nero was descended like Livia from Appius the Blind, though through another son of the great censor. In Livia was concentrated the quintessence of the great Roman aristocracy: she was at Rome what in London to-day the daughter of the Duke of Westminster or the Duke of Bedford would be, and her noble rank explains the role which her family had played during the Civil War. In the great revolution which broke out after the death of Caesar, the father of Livia in the year 43 had been proscribed by the triumvirs; he had fought with Brutus and Cassius and had died by his own hand after Philippi. In 40, after the Perusinian war and only two years before Livia's marriage with Octavianus, Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia had been forced to flee from Italy in fear of the vengeance of Octavianus.
Who on the other hand was Octavianus? A parvenu, with a nobility altogether too recent! His grandfather was a rich usurer of Velitrae (now Velletri), a financier and a man of affairs; it was only his immediate father who succeeded by dint of the riches of the usurer grandfather in entering the Roman nobility. He had married a sister of Caesar and, though still young when he died, had become a senator and pretor. Octavianus was, therefore, the descendant, as we should express it in Europe to-day, of rich bourgeois recently ennobled. Although by adopting him in his will Caesar had given him his name, that of an ancient patrician family, the modest origin of Octavianus and the trade of his grandfather were known to everybody. In a country like Rome where, notwithstanding revolutions, the old nobility was still highly venerated by the people and formed a closed caste, jealous of its exclusive pride of ancestry, this obscurity of origin was a handicap and a danger, especially when Octavianus had as colleagues Antony and Lepidus, who could boast a much more ancient and illustrious origin than his own.
We can readily explain, therefore, even without admitting that Livia had aroused in him a violent passion, why the future Augustus should have been so impatient to marry her in 38 B.C. The times were stormy and uncertain; the youthful triumvir, whom a caprice of fortune had raised to the head of a revolutionary dictatorship, was certainly the weakest of the three colleagues, because of his youth, his slighter experience, the feebler prestige among his soldiers, and, last of all, the greater obscurity of his lineage. Antony, especially, who had fought in so many wars, with Caesar and alone, who belonged to a family of really ancient nobility, was much more popular than he among the soldiers and had stronger relations with the great families. He was therefore more powerful than Octavianus both in high places and in low. A marriage with Livia meant much to the future Augustus. It would open for him a door into the old aristocracy; it would draw him closer to those families which, in spite of the revolution, were still so influential and venerable; it would be the means of lessening the hatred, contempt, and distrust in which these families held him. It was for him what Napoleon's marriage with Marie Louise and the consequent connection with the imperial family of Austria had been for the former Corsican officer, become Emperor of the French. Since, now, a lady who belonged to one of these great families was disposed to marry him, it would have been foolish to put obstacles in the way; it was necessary to act with despatch; time and fortune might change.
Such are the motives that may have induced Augustus to hasten the nuptials. But what were the motives of Livia in accepting this marriage, in such stormy times, when the fortunes of the future Augustus were still so uncertain? A passage in Velleius Paterculus would lead us to believe that he who devised this historic marriage was none other than that same first husband of Livia, Tiberius Claudius Nero himself! According to our ideas it is inconceivable; but not at all strange according to the ideas of the Roman. It is probable that Tiberius Claudius Nero, feeling that the triumph of the revolution was now assured, had wished by this marriage to attach to the cause of the old aristocracy the youngest of the three revolutionary leaders. Already well along in years and infirm,—he was to die shortly after,—Nero, who well knew the intelligence of his young wife, was perhaps planning to place her in the house of the man in whom all saw one of the future lords of Rome. Thus he would bind him to the interests of the aristocracy. In the person of Livia there entered into the house of Octavianus the old Roman nobility, which, defeated at Philippi, was striving to reacquire through the prestige and the cleverness of a woman what it had not been able to maintain by arms.
All her life long, with constancy, moderation, and wonderful tact, Livia fulfilled her mission. She succeeded in resolving into the admirable harmony of a long existence that contradiction between the liberty conceded to her sex and the self-denial demanded of it by man as a duty. She was assuredly one of the most perfect models of that lady of high society whom the Romans in all the years of their long and tempestuous history never ceased to admire. Even and serene, completely mistress of herself and of her passions, endowed with a robust will, she accommodated herself without difficulty to all the sacrifices which her rank and situation imposed upon her. She changed husbands without repugnance, though her marriage to Octavianus occurred but five years after the proscriptions, while he was still red with the blood of her family and friends. Likewise she renounced her two sons, the future emperor Tiberius, who had been born before her second marriage, as well as the one who had been born after. So too when, a few years later, Tiberius Claudius Nero died, appointing Augustus their guardian, with equal serenity she took them back and educated them with the most careful motherly solicitude. To the second husband, whom politics had given her, she was a faithful companion. Scandal imputed to her absurd poisonings which she did not commit, and accused her of insatiable ambitions and perfidious intrigues. No one ever dared accuse her of infidelity to Augustus or of dissolute conduct. The great fame, power, and wealth of her husband did not disturb the calm poise of her spirit. In that palace of Augustus, adorned with triumphal laurel, toward which the eyes of the subjects were turned from every part of the empire, in that palace where, in little councils with the most eminent men of the senate, were debated the supreme interests of the world,—laws and elections, wars and peace,—she preserved the beautiful traditions of simplicity and industry. These she had learned as a child in the house of her father,—a house as much more illustrious with inherited glory as it was poorer in wealth than that which Victory had prepared for Augustus on the Palatine.
We know—it is Suetonius who tells us—that this house on the Palatine built by Augustus, in which Livia spent the larger part of her life, was small and not at all luxurious. In it there was not a single piece of marble nor a precious mosaic; for forty years Augustus slept in the same bedchamber, and the furniture of the house was so simple that in the second century of our era it was exhibited to the public as an extraordinary curiosity. The imperial pair had several villas, at Lanuvium, at Palestrina, at Tivoli, but all of them were unpretentious and simple. Nor was there any more pomp and ceremony about the dinners to which they invited the conspicuous personages of Rome, the dignitaries of the state and the heads of the great families. Only on very special occasions were six courses served; usually there were but three. Moreover, Augustus never wore any other togas than those woven by Livia; woven not indeed and altogether by Livia's hands,—though she did not disdain, now and then, to work the loom,—but by her slaves and freed-women. Faithful to the traditions of the aristocracy, Livia counted it among her duties personally to direct the weaving-rooms which were in the house. As she carefully parceled out the wool to the slaves, watching over them lest they steal or waste it, and frequently taking her place among them while they were at work, she felt that she too contributed to the prosperity and the glory of the empire.
Simplicity, loyalty, industry, an absolute surrender of one's own personality to the family and its interests,—these, in the great families, were the traditional feminine virtues which lived again in Livia to the admiration of her contemporaries. But with these virtues were associated also the need and the pride of participating in the affairs and work of her husband, that interest in politics which had been common to the intelligent women of the nobility. No one at Rome was astonished, especially in the upper classes, that Livia should occupy herself actively with politics; that Augustus should frequently come to her for counsel, or that he should not make any serious decision without having consulted her; that, in short, she should at the same time attend to her husband's clothes and aid him in governing the empire. For so had done from time immemorial all the great ladies of the aristocracy, mindful of their good repute and the prosperity of their families. And Livia must have tried the more earnestly to fulfil all that her education had taught her to consider a sacred duty, since to a woman of her old-fashioned breeding the times must have appeared especially difficult and perilous.
The civil wars had greatly reduced in numbers the historic aristocracy of Rome, and the peace which followed after so long a time and which had been so anxiously invoked, very soon began to threaten the prosperity of the remnant of that nobility with a more insidious but more inevitable ruin. About 18 B.C., when Livia was approaching her fortieth year, the men of the new generation who had not seen the civil wars, for when these ended they were either unborn or only in their infancy, were already beginning to come to the front. They brought with them a previously unknown spirit of luxury, of enjoyment, of dissipation, of rebellion against discipline, of egotism and fondness for the new, which rendered very difficult, not to say impossible, the continuation of the aristocratic regime. Women submitted with more and more repugnance to those obligatory marriages, arranged for reasons of state, which had formerly been the tradition and the sure bulwark of dominion for the aristocracy. The increase of celibacy was rendering sterile the most celebrated stocks; the most lamentable vices and disorders became tolerated and common in the most illustrious families, and ruinous habits of extravagance spread generally among that aristocracy, once so simple and austere. All this had grown up after the conquest of Egypt, which had established more points of contact with the East; and it increased in proportion as those industries and the commerce in articles of luxury which had flourished at Alexandria under the Ptolemies were gradually transplanted to Rome, where the merchants hoped to establish among their conquerors the clientele which had been lost with the fall of the Kingdom of the Nile. The ladies especially took up with the new oriental customs, and, preferring expensive stuffs and jewels, turned from the loom, which Livia had wished to preserve as the emblem of womanhood. Many young men of the great families were beginning to show a distaste for the army, for the government of the state, for jurisprudence, for all those activities which had been the jealous privilege of the nobility of the past. One gave himself up to literary pursuits, another cultivated philosophy, another busied himself only with the increase of his inherited fortune, while another lived only in pleasure and idleness. So it happened that there began to appear descendants of great houses who refused to be senators; every year an effort had to be made to find a sufficient number of candidates for the more numerous positions like the questorship, and in the army it was no easy matter to fill all the posts of the superior officers which were reserved for members of the nobility.
The Roman aristocracy then, that glorious Roman aristocracy which had escaped the massacres of the proscriptions and of Philippi, ran grave danger of dying out through a species of slow suicide, if energetic measures were not taken to supply the necessary remedies. It is certain that Livia had a conspicuous part in the policy of restoring the aristocracy, to which Augustus was impelled by the old nobility, especially toward the year 18 B.C., when with this purpose in view he proposed his famous social laws. The Lex de maritandis ordinibus attempted by various penalties and promises to constrain the members of the aristocracy to contract marriage and to found a family, thus combatting the increasing inclination to celibacy and sterility. The Lex de adulteriis aimed to reestablish order and virtue in the family, by threatening the unfaithful wife and her accomplice with exile for life and the confiscation of a part of their substance. It obliged the husband to expose the crime to the tribunals; if the husband could not or would not make the accusation, it provided that the father should do so; and in case both husband and father failed, it authorized any citizen to step forth as accuser. Finally the Lex sumptuaria was designed to restrain the extravagance of wealthy families, particularly that of the women, prohibiting them from spending too large a part of the family fortune in jewels, apparel, body slaves, festivities, or buildings, especially in the building of sumptuous villas, then a growing fashion. In short, it was the purpose of these laws to bring the ladies of the Roman aristocracy to a course of conduct patterned upon the example of Livia. In the protracted discussions concerning these laws, which took place in the senate, Augustus on one occasion made a long speech in which he cited Livia as a model for the ladies of Rome. He set forth minutely the details of her household administration, telling how she lived, what relations she had with outsiders, what amusements she thought proper for a person of her rank, how she dressed and at what expense. And no one in the senate judged it unworthy of the greatness of the state or contrary to custom thus to introduce the name and person of a great lady into the public discussion of so serious a matter of governmental policy.
Livia, then, about 18 B.C. personified in the eyes of the Romans the perfect type of aristocratic great lady created by long tradition. Having been safely preserved by good fortune through the long civil wars, this model was now set back again upon a fitting pedestal in the most powerful and richest family of the empire. She was the living example of all the virtues which the Romans most cherished, a beloved wife and a heeded counselor to the head of the state, honored with that veneration which power, virtue, nobility of birth, and the dignified beauty of face and figure drew from every one; furthermore, there were her two sons, Tiberius and Drusus, both intelligent, handsome, full of activity, docile to the traditional education which she sought to give them in order that they might be the worthy continuators of the great name they bore. Livia, with all this in her favor, might have been expected to live a happy and tranquil life, serenely to fulfil her mission amid the admiration of the world.
But opposition and difficulties sprang up in her own family. In 39 B.C. Augustus had had by Scribonia a daughter, Julia. Following in the government of his family, as in so large a part of his politics, the traditions of the old nobility, Augustus gave his daughter in marriage when very young,—she was not yet past seventeen,—just as he early gave wives to Livia's two sons, whose guardian he was. In each case in order to assure within his circle harmony and power, he chose the consort in his own family or from among his friends. To Tiberius he gave Agrippina, a daughter of Agrippa, his close friend and most faithful collaborator; to Drusus he gave Antonia, the younger daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia, sister of Augustus. To Julia he gave Marcellus, his nephew, the son of Octavia and her first husband. But while the marriages of Drusus and Tiberius proved successful and the two couples lived lovingly and happily, such was not the case with the marriage of Julia and Marcellus. As a result, disagreeable misunderstandings and rancors soon made themselves felt in the family. We do not know exactly what were the causes of these disagreements. It seems that Marcellus, under the influence of Julia, assumed a tone somewhat too haughty and insolent, such as was not becoming in a youth who, although the nephew of Augustus, was still taking his first steps in his political career; and it seems too that this conduct of his was especially offensive to Agrippa, who, next to Augustus, was the first person in the empire.
In short, at seventeen, Julia desired that her husband should be the second personage of the state in order that she might come immediately after Livia or even be placed directly on an equality with her. According to the Roman ideas of the family and of its discipline, this was a precocious and excessive ambition, unbecoming a matron, much less a young girl. For the duty of the woman was to follow faithfully and submissively the ambitions of her lord and not to impart to him her own ambitions or make him her tool. In contrast to Livia, who was so docile and placid in her respect for the older traditions of the aristocracy, so firm and strong in her observance of the duties, not infrequently grievous and difficult, which this tradition imposed, Julia represented the woman of that new generation which had grown up in the times of peace—a type more rebellious against tradition, less resigned to the serious duties and difficult renunciations of rank; much more inclined to enjoy its prerogatives than disposed to bear that heavy burden of obligations and sacrifices with which the previous generations had balanced privilege. Beautiful and intelligent, even in the early years of her first marriage she showed a great passion for studies, and a fine artistic and literary taste, and with these a lively inclination toward luxury and display which hardly suited with the spirit or the letter of the Lex sumptuaria which her father had carried through in that year. But fraught with greater danger than all this was her ardent and passionate temperament, which both in the family and in politics was altogether too frequently to drive her to desire and to carry through that which, rightly or wrongly, was forbidden to a woman by law, custom, and public opinion.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that a young woman endowed with so fiery and ambitious a nature did not become in the hands of Augustus as docile a political instrument as Livia. Julia wished to live for herself and for her pleasure, not for the political greatness of her father; and indeed, Augustus, who had a fine knowledge of men, was so impressed by this first unhappy experiment that when Marcellus, still a very young man, died in 23 B.C., he hesitated a long time before remarrying the youthful widow. For a moment, indeed, he did think of bestowing her not upon a senator but upon a knight, that is, a person outside of the political aristocracy, evidently with the intention of stifling her too eager ambitions by taking from her all means and hope of satisfying them. Then he decided upon the opposite expedient, that of quieting those ambitions by entirely satisfying them, and so gave Julia, in 21 B.C., to Agrippa, who had been the cause of the earlier difficulties. Agrippa was twenty-four years older than she and could have been her father, but he was in truth the second person of the empire in glory, riches, and power. Soon after, in 18 B.C., he was to become the colleague of Augustus in the presidency of the republic and consequently his equal in every way.
Thus Julia suddenly saw her ambitions gratified. She became at twenty-one the next lady of the empire after Livia, and perhaps even the first in company with and beside her. Young, beautiful, intelligent, cultured, and loving luxury, she represented at Livia's side and in opposition to her, the trend of the new generation in which was growing the determination to free itself from tradition. She lavished money generously, and there soon formed about her a sort of court, a party, a coterie, in which figured the fairest names of the Roman aristocracy. Her name and her person became popular even among the common people of Rome, to whom the name of the Julii was more sympathetic than that of the Claudii, which was borne by the sons of Livia. The combined popularity of Augustus and of Agrippa was reflected in her. It may be said, therefore, that toward 18 B.C., the younger, more brilliant, and more "modern" Julia began to obscure Livia in the popular imagination, except in that little group of old conservative nobility which gathered about the wife of Augustus. So true is this that about this time, Augustus, wishing to place himself into conformity with his law de maritandis ordinibus, reached a significant decision. Since that law fixed at three the number of children which every citizen should have, if he wished to discharge his whole duty toward the state, and since Augustus had but a single daughter, he decided to adopt Caius and Lucius, the first two sons that Julia had borne to Agrippa. This was a great triumph for her, in so far as her sons would henceforth bear the very popular name of Caesar.
But the difficulties which the first marriage with Marcellus had occasioned and which Augustus had hoped to remove by this second marriage soon reappeared in another but still more dangerous form, for they had their roots in that passionate, imperious, bold, and imprudent temperament of Julia. This temperament the Roman education had not succeeded in taming; it was strengthened by the undisciplined spirit of the times. And with it Julia soon began to abuse the fortune, the popularity, the prestige, and the power which came to her from being the daughter of Augustus and the wife of Agrippa. Little by little she became possessed by the mania of being in Rome the antithesis of Livia, of conducting herself in every case in a manner contrary to that followed by her stepmother. If the latter, like Augustus, wore garments of wool woven at home, Julia affected silks purchased at great price from the oriental merchants. These the ladies of the older type considered a ruinous luxury because of the expense, and an indecency because of the prominence which they gave to the figure. Where Livia was sparing, Julia was prodigal. If Livia preferred to go to the theater surrounded by elderly and dignified men, Julia always showed herself in public with a retinue of brilliant and elegant youths. If Livia set an example of reserve, Julia dared appear in the provinces in public at the side of her husband and receive public homage. In spite of the law which forbade the wives of Roman governors to accompany their husbands into the provinces, Julia prevailed upon Agrippa to make her his companion when in the year 16 B.C. he made his long journey through the East. Everywhere she appeared at his side, at the great receptions, at the courts, in the cities; and she was the first of the Latin women to be apotheosized in the Orient. Paphos called her "divine" and set up statues to her; Mitylene called her the New Aphrodite, Eressus, Aphrodite Genetrix. These were bold innovations in a state in which tradition was still so powerful; but they could scarcely have been of serious danger to Julia, if her passionate temperament had not led her to commit a much more serious imprudence. Agrippa, compared to her, was old, a simple, unpolished man of obscure origin who was frequently absent on affairs of state. In the circle which had formed about Julia there were a number of handsome, elegant, pleasing young men; among others one Sempronius Gracchus, a descendant of the famous tribunes. Julia seems toward the close to have had for him, even in the lifetime of Agrippa, certain failings which the Lex de adulteriis visited with terrible punishments.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if from this time on there should have been fostered between Julia and Livia a half-suppressed rivalry. The fact is, in itself, very probable and several indications of it have remained in tradition and in history. We know also that two parties were already beginning to gather about the two women. One of these might be called the party of the Claudii and of the old conservative nobility, the other the party of the Julii and of that youthful nobility which was following the modern trend. As long as Agrippa lived, Augustus, by holding the balance between the two factions, succeeded in maintaining a certain equilibrium. With the death of Agrippa, which occurred in 12 B.C., the situation was changed.
Julia was now for the second time a widow, and by the provisions of the Lex de maritandis ordinibus should remarry. Augustus in the traditional manner sought a husband for her, and, seeking him only with the idea of furthering a political purpose, he found for her Tiberius, the elder son of Livia. Tiberius was the stepbrother of Julia and was married to a lady whom he tenderly loved; but these were considerations which could hardly give pause to a Roman senator. In the marriage of Tiberius and Julia, Augustus saw a way of snuffing out the incipient discord between the Julii and the Claudii, between Julia and Livia, between the parties of the new and of the old nobility. He therefore ordered Tiberius to repudiate the young, beautiful, and noble Agrippina in order to marry Julia. For Tiberius the sacrifice was hard; we are told that one day after the divorce, having met Agrippina at some house, he began to weep so bitterly that Augustus ordered that the former husband and wife should never meet again. But Tiberius, on the other hand, had been educated by his mother in the ancient ideas, and therefore knew that a Roman nobleman must sacrifice his feelings to the public interest. As for Julia, she celebrated her third wedding joyfully; for Tiberius, after the deaths of Agrippa and of his own brother Drusus, was the rising man, the hope and the second personage of the empire, so that she was not forced to step down from the lofty position which the marriage with Agrippa had given her. Tiberius, furthermore, was a very handsome man and for this reason also he seems not to have been displeasing to Julia, who in the matter of husbands considered not only glory and power.
The marriage of Julia and Tiberius began under happy auspices. Julia seemed to love Tiberius and Tiberius did what he could to be a good husband. Julia soon felt that she was once more to become a mother and the hope of this other child seemed to cement the union between husband and wife. But the rosy promises of the beginning were soon disappointed. Tiberius was the son of Livia, a true Claudius, the worthy heir of two ancient lines, an uncompromising traditionalist, therefore a rigid and disdainful aristocrat, and a soldier severe with others as with himself. He wished the aristocracy to set the people an example of all the virtues which had made Rome so great in peace and war: religious piety, simplicity of customs, frugality, family purity, and rigid observance of all the laws. The luxury and prodigality which were becoming more and more wide-spread among the young nobility had no fiercer enemy than he. He held that a man of great lineage who spent his substance on jewels, on dress, and on revels was a traitor to his country, and no one demanded with greater insistence than he that the great laws of the year 18 B.C., the sumptuary law, the laws on marriage and adultery, should be enforced with the severest rigor. Julia, on the other hand, loved extravagance, festivals, joyous companies of elegant youths, an easy, brilliant life full of amusement.
For greater misfortune, the son who was born of their union died shortly after and discord found its way between Julia and Tiberius. Sempronius Gracchus, who knew how to profit by this, reappeared and again made advances to Julia. She again lent her ear to his bland words and the domestic disagreement rapidly became embittered. Tiberius,—this is certain,—soon learned that Julia had resumed her relations with Sempronius Gracchus, and a new, intolerable torment was added to his already distressed life. According to the Lex de adulteriis, he as husband should have made known the crime of his wife to the pretor and have had her punished. He had been one of those who had always most vehemently denounced the nobility for their weakness in the enforcement of this law. Now that his own wife had fallen under the provisions of the terrible statute, to which so many other women had been forced to submit, the moment had come to give the weak that example of unconquerable firmness which he had so often demanded of others. But Julia was the daughter of Augustus. Could he call down, without the consent of Augustus, so terrible a scandal upon the first house of the empire, render its daughter infamous, and drive her into exile? Augustus, though he desired his daughter to be more prudent and serious, yet loved and protected her; above all, he disliked dangerous scandal, and Julia dared to do whatever she wished, knowing herself invulnerable under his protection and his love.
To this hard and false situation Tiberius, fuming with rage, had to adjust himself. He lived in a separate apartment, keeping up with Julia only the relations necessary to save appearances, but he could not divorce her, much less publish her guilt. The situation grew still worse when political discontent began to use for its own ends the discord between Julia and Tiberius. Tiberius had many enemies among the nobility, especially among the young men of his own age; partly because his rapid, brilliant career had aroused much jealousy, partly because his conservative, traditionalist tendencies toward authority and militarism disturbed many of them. More and more among the nobility there was increasing the desire for a mild and easy-going government which should allow them to enjoy their privileges without hardship and which should not be too severe in imposing its duties upon them.
On the other hand, Julia was most ambitious. Since, after the disagreements with Tiberius had broken out, she could no longer hope to be the powerful wife of the first person of the empire after Augustus, she sought compensation. Thus there formed about Julia a party which sought in every way to ruin the lofty position which Tiberius occupied in the state, by setting up against him Caius Caesar, the son of Julia by Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted and of whom he was very fond. In 6 B.C., Caius Caesar was only fourteen years old, but at that period an agitation was set on foot whereby, through a special privilege conceded to him by the senate, he was to be named consul for the year of Rome 754, when Caius should have reached twenty. This was a manoeuver of the Julian party to attract popular attention to the youth, to prepare a rival for Tiberius in his quality as principal collaborator of Augustus, and to gain a hold upon the future head of the state.
The move was altogether very bold; for this nomination of a child consul contradicted all the fundamental principles of the Roman constitution, and it would probably have been fatal to the party which evolved it, had not the indignant rage of Tiberius assured its triumph. Tiberius opposed this law, which he took as an offense, and he wished Augustus to oppose it, and at the outset Augustus did so. But then, either because Julia was able to bend him to her desires or because in the senate there was in truth a strong party which supported it out of hatred for Tiberius, Augustus at last yielded, seeking to placate Tiberius with other compensations. But Tiberius was too proud and violent an aristocrat to accept compensations and indignantly demanded permission to retire to Rhodes, abandoning all the public offices which he exercised. He certainly hoped to make his loss felt, for indeed Rome needed him. But he was mistaken. This act of Tiberius was severely judged by public opinion as a reprisal upon the public for a private offense. Augustus became angry with him and in his absence all his enemies took courage and hurled themselves against him. The honors to Caius Caesar were approved amid general enthusiasm and the Julian party triumphed all along the line; it reached the height of power and popularity, while Tiberius was constrained to content himself with the idle life of a private person at Rhodes.
But at Rome Livia still remained. From that moment began the mortal duel between Livia and Julia.
THE DAUGHTERS OF AGRIPPA
Tiberius had now broken with Augustus, he had lost the support of public opinion, he was hated by the majority of the senate. At Rhodes he soon found himself, therefore, in the awkward position of one who through a false move has played into the hands of his enemies and sees no way of recovering his position. It had been easy to leave Rome; to reenter it was difficult, and in all probability his fortune would have been forever compromised, and he would never have become emperor, had it not been for the fact that in the midst of this general defection two women remained faithful. They were his mother, Livia, and his sister-in-law, Antonia, the widow of that brother Drusus who, dying in his youth, had carried to his grave the hopes of Rome.
Antonia was the daughter of the emperor's sister Octavia and of Mark Antony, the famous triumvir whose name remains forever linked in story with that of Cleopatra. This daughter of Antony was certainly the noblest and the gentlest of all the women who appear in the lugubrious and tragic history of the family of the Caesars. Serious, modest, and even-tempered, she was likewise endowed with beauty and virtue, and she brought into the family and into its struggles a spirit of concord, serenity of mind, and sweet reasonableness, though they could not always prevail against the violent passions and clashing interests of those about her. As long as Drusus lived, Drusus and Antonia had been for the Romans the model of the devoted pair of lovers, and their tender affection had become proverbial; yet the Roman multitude, always given to admiring the descendants of the great families, was even more deeply impressed by the beauty, the virtue, the sweetness, the modesty, and the reserve of Antonia. After the death of Drusus, she did not wish to marry again, even though the Lex de maritandis ordinibus made it a duty. "Young and beautiful," wrote Valerius Maximus, "she withdrew to a life of retirement in the company of Livia, and the same bed which had seen the death of the youthful husband saw his faithful spouse grow old in an austere widowhood." Augustus and the people were so touched by this supreme proof of fidelity to the memory of the ever-cherished husband that by the common consent of public opinion she was relieved of the necessity of remarrying; and Augustus himself, who had always carefully watched over the observance of the marital law in his own family, did not dare insist. Whether living at her villa of Bauli, where she spent the larger part of her year, or at Rome, the beautiful widow gave her attention to the bringing up of her three children, Germanicus, Livilla, and Claudius. Ever since the death of Octavia, she had worshiped Livia as a mother and lived in the closest intimacy with her, and, withdrawn from public life, she attempted now to bring a spirit of peace into the torn and tragic family.
Antonia was very friendly with Tiberius, who, on his side, felt the deepest sympathy and respect for his beautiful and virtuous sister-in-law. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that in this crisis Antonia, who was bound to Livia by many ties, must have taken sides for Livia's son Tiberius. But Antonia was too gentle and mild to lead a faction in the struggle which during these years began between the friends and the enemies of Tiberius, and that role was assumed by Livia, who possessed more strength and more authority.
The situation grew worse and worse. Public opinion steadily became more hostile to Tiberius and more favorable to Julia and her elder son, and it was not long before they wished to give to her younger son, Lucius, the same honors which had already been bestowed upon his brother Caius. Private interest soon allied itself with the hatred and rancor against Tiberius; and scarcely had he departed when the senate increased the appropriation for public supplies and public games. All those who profited by these appropriations were naturally interested in preventing the return of Tiberius, who was notorious for his opposition to all useless expenditures. Any measure, however dishonest, was therefore considered proper, provided only it helped to ruin Tiberius; and his enemies had recourse to every art and calumny, among other things actually accusing him of conspiracies against Augustus. Even for a woman as able and energetic as Livia it was an arduous task to struggle against the inclinations of Augustus, against public opinion, against the majority of the senate, against private interest, and against Julia and her friends. Indeed, four years passed during which the situation of Tiberius and his party grew steadily worse, while the party of Julia increased in power.
Finally the party of Tiberius resolved to attempt a startlingly bold move. They decided to cripple the opposition by means of a terrible scandal in the very person of Julia. The Lex Julia de adulteriis, framed by Augustus in the year 18, authorized any citizen to denounce an unfaithful wife before the judges, if the husband and father should both refuse to make the accusation. This law, which was binding upon all Roman citizens, was therefore applicable even to the daughter of Augustus, the widow of Agrippa, the mother of Caius and Lucius Caesar, those two youths in whom were centered the hopes of the republic. She had violated the Lex Julia and she had escaped the penalties which had been visited on many other ladies of the aristocracy only because no one had dared to call down this scandal upon the first family of the empire. The party of Tiberius, protected and guided by Livia, at last hazarded this step.
It is impossible to say what part Livia played in this terrible tragedy. It is certain that either she or some other influential personage succeeded in gaining possession of the proofs of Julia's guilt and brought them to Augustus, threatening to lay them before the pretor and to institute proceedings if he did not discharge his duty. Augustus found himself constrained to apply to himself his own terrible law. He himself had decreed that if the husband, as was then the case of Tiberius, could not accuse a faithless woman, the father must do so. It was his law, and he had to bow to it in order to avoid scandals and worse consequences. He exiled Julia to the little island of Pandataria, and at the age of thirty-seven the brilliant, pleasing, and voluptuous young woman who had dazzled Rome for many years was compelled to disappear from the metropolis forever and retire to an existence on a barren island. She was cut off by the implacable hatred of a hostile party and by the inexorable cruelty of a law framed by her own father!
The exile of Julia marks the moment when the fortunes of Tiberius and Livia, which had been steadily losing ground for four years, began to revive, though not so rapidly as Livia and Tiberius had probably expected. Julia preserved, even in her misfortune, many faithful friends and a great popularity. For a long time popular demonstrations were held in her favor at Rome, and many busied themselves tenaciously to obtain her pardon from Augustus, all of which goes to prove that the horrible infamies which were spread about her were the inventions of enemies. Julia had broken the Lex Julia,—so much is certain,—but even if she had been guilty of an unfortunate act, she was not a monster, as her enemies wished to have it believed. She was a beautiful woman, as there had been before, as there are now, and as there will be hereafter, touched with human vices and with human virtues.
As a matter of fact, her party, after it had recovered from the terrible shock of the scandal, quickly reorganized. Firm in its intention of having Julia pardoned, it took up the struggle again, and tried as far as it could to hinder Tiberius from returning to Rome and again taking part in political life, knowing well that if the husband once set foot in Rome, all hope of Julia's return would be lost. Only one of them could reenter Rome. It was either Tiberius or Julia; and more furiously than ever the struggle between the two parties was waged about Augustus.
Caius and Lucius Caesar, Julia's two youthful sons, of whom Augustus was very fond, were the principal instruments with which the enemies of Tiberius fought against the influence of Livia over Augustus. Every effort was made to sow hatred and distrust between the two youths and Tiberius, to the end that it might become impossible to have them collaborate with him in the government of the empire, and that the presence of Julia's sons should of necessity exclude that of her husband. A further ally was soon found in the person of another child of Julia and Agrippa, the daughter who has come down into history under the name of the Younger Julia. Augustus had conceived as great a love for her as for the two sons, and there was no doubt that she would aid with every means in her power the party averse to Tiberius; for her mother's instincts of liberty, luxury, and pleasure were also inherent in her. Married to L. Aemilius Paulus, the son of one of the greatest Roman families, she had early assumed in Rome a position which made her, like her mother, the antithesis of Livia. She, too, gathered about her, as the elder Julia had done, a court of elegant youths, men of letters, and poets,—Ovid was of the number,—and with this group she hoped to be able to hold the balance of power in the government against that coterie of aged senators who paid court to Livia. She, too, took advantage of the good-will of her grandfather, just as her mother had done, and in the shadow of his protection she displayed an extravagance which the laws did not permit, but which, on this account, was all the more admired by the enemies of the old Roman Puritanism. As though openly to defy the sumptuary law of Augustus, she built herself a magnificent villa; and, if we dare believe tradition, it was not long before she, too, had violated the very law which had proved disastrous to her mother.
Thus, even after the departure of Julia, her three children, Caius, Lucius, and Julia the Younger, constituted in Rome an alliance which was sufficiently powerful to contest every inch of ground with the party of Livia; for they had public opinion in their favor, they enjoyed the support of the senate, and they played upon the weakness of Augustus. In the year 2 A.D., after four years of exhaustive efforts spent in struggle and intrigue, all that Livia had been able to obtain was the mere permission that Tiberius might return to Rome, under the conditions, however, that he retire to private life, that he give himself up to the education of his son, and that he in no wise mingle in public affairs. The condition of the empire was growing worse on every side; the finances were disordered, the army was disorganized, and the frontiers were threatened, for revolt was raising its head in Gaul, in Pannonia, and especially in Germany. Every day the situation seemed to demand the hand of Tiberius, who, now in the prime of life, was recognized as one of the leading administrators and the first general of the empire. But, for all Livia's insistence, Augustus refused to call Tiberius back into the government. The Julii were masters of the state, and held the Claudii at a distance.
Perhaps Tiberius would never have returned to power in Rome had not chance aided him in the sudden taking off, in a strange and unforeseen manner, of Caius and Lucius Caesar. The latter died at Marseilles, following a brief illness, shortly after the return of Tiberius to Rome, August 29, in the year 2 A.D. It was a great grief to Augustus, and, twenty months after, was followed by another still more serious. In February of the year 4, Caius also died, in Lycia, of a wound received in a skirmish. These two deaths were so premature, so close to each other, and so opportune for Tiberius, that posterity has refused to see in them simply one of the many mischances of life. Later generations have tried to believe that Livia had a hand in these fatalities. Yet he who understands life at all knows that it is easier to imagine and suspect romantic poisonings of this sort than it is to carry them out. Even leaving the character of Livia out of consideration, it is difficult to imagine how she would have dared, or have been able, to poison the two youths at so great a distance from Rome, one in Asia, the other in Gaul, by means of a long train of accomplices, and this at a moment when the family of Augustus was divided by many hatreds and every member was suspected, spied upon, and watched by a hostile party. Furthermore, it would have been necessary to carry this out at a time when the example of Julia proved to all that relationship to Augustus was not a sufficient defense against the rigors of the law and the severity of public opinion when roused by any serious crime. Besides, it is a recognized fact that people are always inclined to suspect a crime whenever a man prominent in the public eye dies before his time. At Turin, for example, there still lives a tradition among the people that Cavour was poisoned, some say by the order of Napoleon III, others by the Jesuits, simply because his life was suddenly cut off, at the age of fifty-two, at the moment when Italy had greatest need of him. Indeed, even to-day we are impressed when we see in the family of Augustus so many premature deaths of young men; but precisely because these untimely deaths are frequent we come to see in them the predestined ruin of a worn-out race in history. All ancient families at a certain moment exhaust themselves. This is the reason why no aristocracy has been able to endure for long unless continually renewed, and why all those that have refused to take in new blood have failed from the face of the earth. There is no serious reason for attributing so horrible a crime to a woman who was venerated by the best men of her time; and the fables which the populace, always faithful to Julia, and therefore hostile to Livia, recounted on this score, and which the historians of the succeeding age collected, have no decisive value.
The deaths of Caius and Lucius Caesar were therefore a great good fortune for Tiberius, because it determined his return to power. The situation of the empire was growing worse on every hand; Germany was in the midst of revolt, and it was necessary to turn the army over to vigorous hands. Augustus, old and irresolute, still hesitated, fearing the dislike which was brewing both in the senate and among the people against the too dictatorial Tiberius. At last, however, he was forced to yield.
The more serious, more authoritative, more ancient party of the senatorial nobility, in accord with Livia and headed by a nephew of Pompey, Cnaeus Cornelius Cinna, forced him to recall Tiberius, threatening otherwise to have recourse to some violent measures the exact character of which we do not know. The unpopularity of Tiberius was a source of continual misgivings to the aging Augustus, and it was only through this threat of a yet greater danger that they finally overcame his hesitation. On June 26, in the fourth year of our era, Augustus adopted Tiberius as his son, and had conferred upon him for ten years the office of tribune, thus making him his colleague. Tiberius returned to power, and, in accordance with the wishes of Augustus, adopted as his son Germanicus, the elder son of Drusus and Antonia, his faithful friend. He was an intelligent, active lad of whom all entertained the highest hopes.
On his return to power, Tiberius, together with Augustus, took measures for reorganizing the army and the state, and sought to bring about by means of new marriages and acts of clemency a closer union between the Julian and Claudian branches of the family, then bitterly divided by the violent struggles of recent years. The terms of Julia's exile were made easier; Germanicus married Agrippina, another daughter of Julia and Agrippa, and a sister of Julia the Younger; the widow of Caius Caesar, Livilla, sister of Germanicus and daughter of Antonia, was given to Drusus, the son of Tiberius, a young man born in the same year as Germanicus. Drusus, despite certain defects, such as irascibility and a marked fondness for pleasure, gave evidence that he possessed the requisite qualities of a statesman—firmness, sound judgment, and energy. The policy which dictated these marriages was always the same—to make of the family of Augustus one formidable and united body, so that it might constitute the solid base of the entire government of the empire. But, alas! wise as were the intentions, the ferments of discord and the unhappiness of the times prevailed against them. Too much had been hoped for in recalling Tiberius to power. During the ten years of senile government, the empire had been reduced to a state of utter disorder. The measures planned by Tiberius for reestablishing the finances of the state roused the liveliest discontent among the wealthy classes in Italy, and again excited their hatred against him. In the year 6 A.D., the great revolt of Pannonia broke out and for a moment filled Italy with unspeakable terror. In an instant of mob fury, they even came to fear that the peninsula would be invaded and Rome besieged by the barbarians of the Danube. Tiberius came to the rescue, and with patience and coolness put down the insurrection, not by facing it in open conflict, but by drawing out the war to such a length as to weary the enemy, a method both safe and wise, considering the unreliable character of the troops at his command. But at Rome, once the fear had subsided, the long duration of the war became a new cause for dissatisfaction and anger, and offered to many a pretext for venting their long-cherished hatred against Tiberius, who was accused of being afraid, of not knowing how to end the war, and of drawing it out for motives of personal ambition. The party averse to Tiberius again raised its head and resorted once more to its former policy—that of urging on Germanicus against Tiberius. The former was young, ambitious, bold, and would have preferred daring strokes and a war quickly concluded. It is certain that there would have risen then and there a Germanican and a Tiberian party, if Augustus, on this occasion, had not energetically sustained Tiberius from Rome. But the situation again became strained and full of uncertainty.
In the midst of these conflicts and these fears, a new scandal broke out in the family of Augustus. The Younger Julia, like her mother, allowed herself to be caught in violation of the Lex Julia de adulteriis, and she also was compelled to take the road of exile. In what manner and at whose instance the scandal was disclosed we do not know; we do know, however, that Augustus was very fond of his granddaughter, whence we can assume that in this moment of turbid agitation, when so much hatred was directed against his family and his house, and when so many forces were uniting to overthrow Tiberius again, notwithstanding the fact that he had saved the empire, Augustus felt that he must a second time submit to his own law. He did not dare contend with the puritanical party, with the more conservative minority in the senate,—the friends of Tiberius,—over this second victim in his family. Without a doubt everything possible was done to hush up the scandal, and there would scarcely have come down to us even a summary notice of the exile of the second Julia had it not been that among those exiled with her was the poet Ovid, who was to fill twenty centuries with his laments and to bring them to the ears of the latest generations.
Ovid's exile is one of those mysteries of history which has most keenly excited the curiosity of the ages. Ovid himself, without knowing it, has rendered it more acute by his prudence in not speaking more clearly of the cause of his exile, making only rare allusions to it, which may be summed up in his famous words, carmen et error. It is for this reason that posterity has for twenty centuries been asking itself what was this error which sent the exquisite poet away to die among the barbarous Getae on the frozen banks of the Danube; and naturally they have never compassed his secret. But if, therefore, it is impossible to say exactly what the error was which cost Ovid so dearly, it is possible, on the other hand, to explain that unique and famous episode in the history of Rome to which, after all, Ovid owes a great part of his immortality. He was not the victim, as has been too often repeated, of a caprice of despotism; and therefore he cannot be compared with any of the many Russian writers whom the administration, through fear and hatred, deports to Siberia without definite reason. Certainly the error of Ovid lay in his having violated some clause of the Lex Julia de adulteriis, which, as we know, was so comprehensive in its provisions that it considered as accessories to the crime those guilty of various acts and deeds which, judged even with modern rigor and severity, would seem reprehensible, to be sure, but not deserving of such terrible punishment. Ovid was certainly involved under one of these clauses,—which one we do not, and never shall, know,—but his error, whether serious or light, was not the true cause of his condemnation. It was the pretext used by the more conservative and puritanical part of Roman society to vent upon him a long-standing grudge the true motives of which lay much deeper.
What was the standing of this poet of the gay, frivolous, exquisite ladies whom they wished to send into exile? He was the author of that graceful, erotic poetry who, through the themes which he chose for his elegant verses, had encouraged the tendencies toward luxury, diversion, and the pleasures which had transformed the austere matron of a former day into an extravagant and undisciplined creature given to voluptuousness; the poet who had gained the admiration of women especially by flattering their most dangerous and perverse tendencies. The puritanical party hated and combatted this trend of the newer generations, and therefore, also, the poetry of Ovid on account of its disastrous effects upon the women, whom it weaned from the virtues most prized in former days—frugality, simplicity, family affection, and purity of life. The Roman aristocracy did not recognize the right of absolute literary freedom which is acknowledged by many modern states, in which writers and men of letters have acquired a strong political influence. The theory, held by many countries to-day that any publication is justifiable, provided it be a work of art, was not accepted by the Romans in power. On the contrary, they were convinced that an idea or a sentiment, dangerous in itself, became still more harmful when artistically expressed. Therefore Rome had always known the existence of a kind of police supervision of ideas and of literary forms, exercised through various means by the ruling aristocracy, and especially in reference to women, who constituted that element of social life in which virtue and purity of customs are of the greatest consequence. The Roman ladies of the aristocracy, as we have seen, received considerable instruction. They read the poets and philosophers, and precisely for this reason there was always at Rome a strong aversion to light and immoral literature. If books had circulated among men only, the poetry of Ovid would perhaps not have enjoyed the good fortune of a persecution which was to focus upon it the attention of posterity. The greater liberty conceded to women thus placed upon society an even greater reserve in the case of its literature. This Ovid learned to his cost when he was driven into exile because his books gave too much delight to too many ladies at Rome. By the order of Augustus these books were removed from the libraries, which did not hinder their coming down to us entire, while many a more serious work—like Livy's history, for example—has been either entirely or in large part lost.