Lucius Aelius Sejanus
Lucius Aelius Sejanus was born in Volsinii
either in 20 or in 19 BC. He was the son of an influent eques
, Lucius Seius Strabo, who was appointed as the praefectus praetorio
shortyly after teh creation of the office. While he couldn't claim a great ascendency from his father, from his mother, a Giunia, and thus belonging to an influent family, he could claim consulares fratres, consobrinos, avunculum
('brothers, cousins, and an uncle who had reached the consulship'), for example Quintus Junius Blaesus, cos
. in 10 AD. He belonged to the not-so-illustrios gens Seia
, but he was soon adopted by Gaius Aelius Gallus, and thus becoming a member of the important gens Aelia
. We don't know anything about his youth -- he may have been followed Gaius Caesar in his eastern mission, and could have also been linked to the famous gastronomer Apicius. While we don't know wheter Tacitus' claim that Sejanus prostituted himself to the man is true -- it appears unlikely that a young boy, coming from such a family background, was so desperate to do that - it's certain that Sejanus married Apicata, who may have been very well Apicius' daughter, even though that is far from certain. Apicata gave Sejanus three children: Lucius Aelius Strabo, Decimus Capito Aelianus and Aelia Iunilla.
We know that Sejanus' family was strictly linked to the Julio-Claudians, since Terentia, Sejanus' grand aunt, was Maecenas' wife. Thus, it isn't surprising to see that Sejanus' father was appointed as praefectus praetorio
shortly after the creation of the office. Upon Augustus' death in 14, Sejanus was made the colleagues of his father ad praetorian prefect. Strabo in 15 the office, because he was promoted to praefect of Egypt, and he probably died shortly afterwards. Sejanus was left as the sole praetorian prefect. By that time, praetorian prefect wasn't quite the praefect of the pretorian guard, but the administrator of the praetorium
. So, while we cannot talk about Sejanus as a commander, he was at least an influent member of the courtisans surrounding the domus Caesaris
, whose most important member was the paterfamilias
, who was known as the princeps
or, as we call him nowadays, the emperor.
In 14, Tiberius succedeed Augustus in the role of princeps
. We don't know wheter Tiberius already knew Sejanus or not before he was made emperor -- he may have met him some 15 years before, as we know that Tiberius visited Gaius Caesar during his self imposed exile in Rhodes because he had heard that Gaius was in Samos -- but he surely began appreciating him very soon, since he sent him with his son Drusus to put down a revolt in the Illyricum just after his accession. In 20, he tried to link himself to the domus Caesaris
by a marriage between his daughter Iunilla and a son of Claudius -- a nephew of the emperor --, but the boy soon died. Even though someone reported that Sejanus killed him, that is a nonsense, as Suetonius correctly remarks. In the same years, he managed to convince Tiberius to put all the nine cohortes praetoriae
in a single camp, in Rome, the famous Castra Praetoria
. While many think of that as an increase of Sejanus' power in Rome, I believe that Tiberius is the one who benefited the most from that action, since he was seen as the leader of them in the early empire than the prefect himself, thus he probably acted in concert with Sejanus. A surviving wall of the Castra Praetoria
Sejanus soon proved himself to be a successful administrator. In 22, he helped to put down a fire in the Theatre of Pompey, where it was erected a statue on his honour. Tiberius was probably pleased with the efficiency of Sejanus, as he allegedly used to call him socius laborum
, partner of my labours. In those years, Tiberius wasn't very popular, as many held him as the assassin of the beloved Germanicus, who had died in 19 near Antioch and Agrippina, his widow, and her oldest male children, Nero and Drusus, were becoming to have some supporters around him, though we can hardly talk about a political party as Tacitus puts it. Germanicus was made by Augustus himself the heir of Tiberius in 4; after his death Tiberius, following his predecessor example, tried to give his son and Germanicus' sons some honours to create a pool of princes for the succession. In fact, in early empire, there wasn't a succession as we identify it nowadays, but the tenure of princeps
was inherited by honours and privileges that were earned after civilian merits. All the male young members of the Domus Caesaris
thus had an early access to the cursus honorum
, but that wasn't anything new, since nepotism was wide spread in Rome and many young aristocrats became their political careers very early. Following those ideas, Tiberius made his own son Drusus consul in 21 with himself (an honour that could bestowed only to an 'heir apparent') and in the following year gave him the tribunicia potestas
. At the same time, after Nero, Germanicus' oldest son, was given the toga virilis
, which pretty much marked his accession to manhood, he married Julia Livia, Tiberius' grandaughter. Tiberius also entrusted Germanicus' sons to his own son.
At this point, Tacitus claims that Sejanus began planning to get rid of all those young men, to be appointed as the successor in their places. It's not easy to discern truth from our sources, because there are some inconsintencies in them, but it seems that Sejanus was mainly worried to lose his influence. In fact, neither Drusus nor Agrippina's family and supporters liked him -- probably because he was seen as the emperor's longa manus
-- and after Tiberius' death he would have probably lost all his influence. In particular, Drusus didn't like him because of all the support Sejanus was enjoying from his father, and he also allegedly punched him during a feud. Drusus' probably wasn't worried with the succession -- he most likely wasn't ambitious, as they report that he was on friendly terms with Germanicus even when the latter was the front-runner heir of Tiberius. He probably didn't like the fact that an eques
like Sejanus was held in such honours. After all, Drusus was a Claudian, and like his father, he probably had a lot of adrogantia
, arrogance. But, while his father valued Sejanus on his services to the State, Drusus did not. Not long afterwards, Drusus died because of a illness, or maybe because he was excessively fond on drinking, another trait that he had inherited from his father. Many sources claim that Sejanus was involved in his death, seducing Drusus' wife, who was called Claudia Livilla, and convining her, with the help of the eunuch Lygdus and the physician Eudemus, to poison her husband. That seems doubtful -- why should have Livilla bertayed her husband, who was the front runner of the domus Caesaris
princes? Many would assert that she was concerned with the dirict to the succession of his son, Tiberius Gemellus, and she could have joined Sejanus, seeing that Drusus was lacking the prefect's ambitio
. While this is just a theory, it would have been an over-complicated scheme. Still, it seems that Sejanus and Livilla effectively had an affair, as we will see later. A portrait of Drusus, Tiberius' son; Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne, Germany
Tiberius suffered a lot from his only son' death, but he was kinda stoic in that sense, and didn't mourn very much his death, like after Germanicus' death. In 23, upon Drusus' death, the walked into the senate chamber and entrusted Nero and Drusus, Germanicus' sons, to the Senate. What was the meaning of that? That wasn't a adoption -- since Tiberius wasn't adopting them -- but it clearly showed that Tiberius had some projects concerning the two youths. And Sejanus had, too. In fact, while we can call Drusus' death a fortuitous event, Nero and Drusus were protected by incorruptible guardians and, expecially, by Agrippina. On the other hand, he could work on Tiberius' hostily toward her. Fate helped him. In fact, the pontiffs, at the start of the year 24, included the names of Nero and Drusus in the vows to the salute of the emperor. They probably did so, because they thought that succession was settled, but Tiberius was enranged and called them out. Sejanus worked on the emperor fears, and began telling him that there was a party in the city supporting Agrippina' interests and ambitions. As I've already said, modern scholars have heavily criticized the real presence of such a party, but Tiberius' hostily toward Agrippina surely increased. In 24, Gaius Silius was accused of concussion (pecuniae repetundae
) and connivence with the rebel Julius Sacrovir, whose rebellion was put down by Silius himself. He was accused with his wife Sosia. Silius didn't make any defense but claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy. Silius soon commited suicide to avoide final sentence, while Sosia was exiled. That was a major struck to Agrippina's supporters, since Silius and Sosia were great friends to the woman.
Other trials followed that of Silius. In 25, Aulus Cremutius Cordus, an historian, was trialed on treason. While the accuse was to have praised Cassius and Brutus, Seneca claims that the real motive of his accusation was his mockery of the decision to erect a statue of Sejanus in the Theatre of Pompey. While we don't know wheter this is true or not, Sejanus was surely involved in his trial, since at least one of his accusers (Pinarius Natta) was among Sejanus clientes
. Cordus too commited suicide by starving, and his writing were destroyed. In the same year, Sejanus asked Tiberius to marry Livilla through a letter. He probably thought that Tiberius had him in such reputation that he would accept such a proposal, also reminding him of the marriage between Agrippa, a not noble man, and Julia, Augustus' daughter. Such was Tiberius' answer: "With other men, the standpoint for their decisions was what was in their own interests: the lot of princes was very different, as their weightiest affairs had to be regulated with an eye upon public opinion. Therefore he did not take refuge in the answer which came most readily to the pen — that Livia could determine for herself whether she ought to marry after Drusus or rest content with her old home, and that she had a mother and grandmother who were more natural advisers. He would deal more openly: and first with regard to Agrippina's enmity, which would blaze out far more fiercely if Livia's marriage divided, as it were, the Caesarian house into two camps. Even as matters stood, there were outbreaks of feminine jealousy, and the feud was unsettling his grandchildren. What then if the strife was accentuated by the proposed union?" — "For, Sejanus, [...] you delude yourself, if you imagine that you can keep your present rank, or that the Livia who has been wedded successively to Gaius Caesar and to Drusus will be complaisant enough to grow old at the side of a Roman knight. Assuming that I myself consent, do you suppose the position will be tolerated by those who have seen her brother, her father, and our ancestors, in the supreme offices of state? You wish, for your own part, to stop short of the station you hold: but those magistrates and men of distinction who take you by storm and consult you on any and every subject make no secret of their opinion that you have long since transcended the heights of the equestrian order and left the friendships of my father far behind; and in their envy of you they censure myself as well. — You make the point that Augustus considered the possibility of bestowing his daughter on a Roman knight. Astonishing, certainly, that, tugged at by every sort of anxiety, and foreseeing an immense accession of dignity to the man whom he should have raised above his peers by such an alliance, his conversation ran on Gaius Proculeius and a few others, remarkable for their quietude of life and implicated in none of the business of the state! But, if we are to be moved by the hesitancy of Augustus, how much more cogent the fact that he affianced her to Marcus Agrippa and later to myself! — I have spoken openly, as was due to our friendship; but I shall oppose neither your decisions nor those of Livia. Of the result of my own reflections, and the further ties by which I propose to cement our union, I shall at present forbear to speak. One point only I shall make clear: no station, however exalted, would be unearned by your qualities and your devotion to myself; and when the occasion comes, either in the senate or before the public, I shall not be silent."
That's an ambigous answer, isn't it? That shows how Tiberius didn't completely trust the man, probably because of his humble origin and of Claudian adrogantia
. Sejanus was only Tiberius' advisor, and his ambitio
couldn't be fullfilled because of that. Tiberius would never allow a a knigh to marry an 'imperial princess' like Livilla. Like Augustus with Agrippa, he could entrust a man like Sejanus important matters, but the latter surely wasn't in a position worthy of such a marriage. After all, following Augustus praecepta
, Tiberius was always ambigous, and he even became ridicolous by doing that time to time. Tiberius portrait; Carlos Collection of Ancient Art, Georgia, USA
Sejanus was deluded, but didn't lose the hope and moved consequently. Clodia Phulcra, Agrippina's cousin, was trialed the following year on pretestous charges. Agrippina, who was atrox
, as Tacitus puts it -- that's interesting, since the word is usually linked to men rather than to women -- became very angry to the princeps
and her hot-tempered behaviour led to some incidents, maybe caused by Sejanus. For example, Tacitus claims that Sejanus sent someone to tell Agrippina that Tiberius was willing to poison her. Because of that, Agrippina gave to a taster an apple Tiberius offered her during a banquet, which basically meant that she was accusing him of venefice. We don't know wheter that really happened, but if it's true it shows us the very attitude of Tiberius toward Agrippina: he saw her as an overly ambitious nuisance. I think Suetonius is right when he says that Tiberius offered the apple only to see Agrippina's feelings toward him. That incident allegedly interrupted all the contacts between Tiberius and Agrippina. Later in the same year, Tiberius decided to leave Rome. We don't really know why he did so, but, as Tacitus correctly remarks, Sejanus' role was probably minimal in the decision, because Tiberius didn't return in Rome even after Sejanus' death. The prefect followed Tiberius at least up to Sperlonga, where the emperor had a villa. Tacitus reports that during a banquet in the villa's grotto-nimpheus, Sejanus saved the emperor from the collapsing ceiling. We don't know wheter Sejanus did that for loyalty or simply for ambition -- Tiberius was the source of his power, thus he had to be kept alive -- but it surely increased Tiberius' fiduce in Sejanus. During the following year, Tiberius transferred to Capri, where he was to spend most of his remaining years. He was never to return to Rome, and Sejanus' influence grew consequently, even though we cannot state that Tiberius entrusted all the affairs to his minister. He probably only represented Tiberius' authority. The emperor effectively kept governing with the same attention and sense of duty he had always shown.
In Rome, meanwhile, the Senate bestowed great honours to both Tiberius and Sejanus. They also erected an altar to the Amicitia
, the friendship, between the emperor and his prefect. In the opening day of 28, Titius Sabinus, who had been accused of lex maiestatis
during the previous year, was sentenced to death by Tiberius through the new year letter. Sejanus surely played a role in the trial, since the accuser (Lucanus Latiaris) was among his clientes
. That cannot surprise us, since Sabinus was one of the last standing Agrippina's supporters. While Tacitus tells us that he was tricked in insulting Tiberius to accuse him of treason, he probably was involved in an alleged plot concerning Nero, a thing we can understand from a passage in Pliny. Effectively, during the previous year, Agrippina was either put on house arrest or sent to Herculaneum
. Sejanus had two important allies within Germanicus' family, that could work as spies: Drusus, Nero's brother, who was envy of his older sibling, and Julia, Nero's wife, as well as Livilla's daughter. While there are no proofs of revolutionary plot by Agrippina, accuses against her were probably consistent enough to give her such punishments. Sejanus was close from his goal, probably of becoming Tiberius' 'heir apparent' -- like Agrippa between 21 and his death in 12 BC, or, as someone suggested, to play regency upon the young Gemellus.
In 29, a letter arrived from Capri shortly after Tiberius' mother, Julia Augusta, death. It didn't accuse Agrippina nor Nero directly, but only called the first 'arrogant' and the second 'pervert'. The Senate was confused: what did Tiberius want? A riot outside the Curia -- Agrippina and her sons were in fact loved by the people -- convinced the Senate not to take any decisions. Sejanus reported that to the emperor, saying that such a reaction was close to the revolt. The enraged Tiberius decided to trial Agrippina by his own. We don't know what happened exactly, but we know that Aulus Avilius Flaccus was involved as accuser, and that Agrippina and Nero were at the end both exiled, the first to Pandataria
-- Ventotene --, the second to Pontia
. Drusus, under unknow charges, was closed in the Palatine' cellar shortly afterwards, at the istigation of Sejanus on a certain Cassius (one of the consul of year 30?) By 33, they all were dead.
But Sejanus was never to see Agrippina's death. In fact, Tiberius grew increasingly suspicious toward his prefect's ambition. We've already explained why: he was an eques
, his requests of marriage weren't acceptable, as well as his ambitions. Augustus never needed to punish Agrippa, because the latter was always loyal to him. Either because Tiberius lacked charisma or Sejanus' ambitions were too great, a solution had to be taken. Someone pointed out how the Senate is probably the one that caused Tiberius' sospicious to grow, because it voted the prefect great honours, thus making Sejanus' position a matter of State. That sound feasible, as Tiberius had always shown that he was mixture of strong and weak willness, but I believe that Senate role was minimal. Ambiguity is the only word that can define the relationship between Tiberius and Sejanus. While the latter became consul alongside Tiberius in 31 and was allowed to marry Livilla, Tiberius also began omitting Sejanus' titles in letters and criticizing his supporters. Sejanus' dies natalis
became a public celebration, but Tiberius also forbade all the sacrifices to living people -- including Sejanus. The prefect was madre priest alongside his son, but a similar treatment was reserved to the young Gaius, the youngest male son of Germanicus, also known as Caligula, who was summoned to Capri. Sejanus' struggle for influence was at its end. He probably tried to get some support in the mob, as he held his election for the consulship of 31 on the Aventine -- which was strongly linked to the plebs -- and kept the statue of godness Fortune that had already belonged to Servius Tullius -- the 'founder' of the mob -- but what he had done to Germanicus' house couldn't be forgotten. All the support he had in Senate was lost, because all the senators supporting him did so to please Tiberius. The emperor also renounced to the consulship at the middle of the year 31, forcing Sejanus to do the same. At the end, Tiberius, seeing that Sejanus was weakened enough, he spread a rumor according the which he was about to confer his prefect the tribunicia potestas
. On October 18th, 31, the Senate was summoned on the Temple of Apollo, on the Palatine. Quintus Sutorius Macro, the praefect of the vigils, told him that a letter was sent from Capri that was to be read and would confer Sejanus the long-wanted tribunicia potestas
. Sejanus happily entered the Senate chamber, but that was a trick: the letter was 'long and wordy', and at first it praised Sejanus, then criticized him and at last asked for his arrest. Macro, who had already been secretly appointed as the new prefect, arrested him and took the prefect to the Carcer Tullianum
, Rome's only known prison. The pretorians didn't react, and the Senate trialed and sentenced to death the prefect in the same day. Sejanus was strangled, his body cast on the Gemonian Stairs; the mob injuried his body for three days -- as I've already said, it hadn't forgotten Agrippina's disgrace -- and threw the remains to Tiber. Livilla, Sejanus' children and supporters, all that were somehow linked to the prefect were trialed and eventually perished. Damnatio memoriae
was issued on Sejanus, and the day of his execution was made a public celebration. A coin of 31; the name of Sejanus is erased because of damnatio memoriae