Tacitus – The Annals, Book 6 – A.D. 32-37 – 6.28‑51 Parthian War, centered on Armenia. Fire on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Death of Tiberius.

  1. While Paulus Fabius & Lucius Vitellius were consuls, a phoenix appeared for the 1st time in ages in Egypt. Men from all over, especially Greece, discussed the significance. I’ll just let you know what they all agreed upon. The phoenix is sacred to the sun & has a very different plumage & beak to other birds. While the specific number of years it lives may vary, it’s generally around 500 years. Some say it appears in intervals of 1461 years & they flew into the old city of Heliopolis during the reigns of Sesostris, Amasis & Ptolemy. But ancient history is obscure. Between Ptolemy & Tiberius was a span of less than 500 years. So some said it wasn’t a real phoenix of Arabia. They say when the phoenix’s time is up, it builds a nest near to where it was born & puts a germ into it to give new life to an offspring which in turn buries its father. It takes its body weight in myrrh, along with its fathers body to the altar of the sun where it catches fire. This most likely is not true, or is at least an exaggeration. But it’s known to be seen in Egypt.

  2. Rome was in constant bloodshed. Governor of Moesia, Pomponius Labeo, slit his own wrists to kill himself. His wife, Paxaea, did the same. They were deprived of their property & a burial. The emperor made the argument that it had been a long-standing tradition, that if you barred a person from your house, the intimacy & friendship ended. Labeo tried to his guilty by pointing at another to distract from his own actions… Mamercus Scaurus was impeached a second time. He didn’t fall because of a friendship with Sejanus but through enmity with Macro. Scaurus had written a play with verses that may or may not be allusions to Tiberius. His accusers alleged adultery with Livia & practicing magic. Scaurus was of the Aemilii family & was able to forestall a fatal sentence. But he & his wife both died.

  3. The informers also started to be punished. Scaurus’s accusers, Servilius & Cornelius, themselves were outlawed & sent to some islands for being bribed into not prosecuting a case. Abudius Ruso, an aedile, tried to get his commander, Lentulus Gaetulicus, in trouble by claiming he’d tried to get Sejanus’s son to marry his daughter. Ruso was banished. Gaetulicus was commander of the legions of Upper Germany & was popular with his men. He had written to Tiberius to remind him that his connection to Sejanus was purely Tiberius’s idea. His loyalty & appearance of it was untainted except by a plot. He & Tiberius had an understanding that he would remain loyal so long as he was not bothered in Upper Germany.

  4. In the consulship of Caius Cestius & Marcus Servilius, Parthian nobles came to Rome, unbeknownst to their king, Artabanus. Artabanus was loyal to Rome out of fear of Germaniucs. But since Germanicus’s death, he started tyrannizing his people. He started successful wars against his neighbors. There also was little respect for Tiberius, whom he felt weak & too old, & wanted to take over Armenia. Now that Artaxias was dead, he put his son Arsaces on its throne. He sent for the collection of the treasures left by Vonones in Syria & Cilicia. In an effort to emulate Cyrus & Alexander, he wanted his boundaries to be redrawn to where they were back in their days, mostly concerning Persia & Macedonia. These nobles didn’t have an adequate man to replace him with & wanted Phraates to be allowed to leave Rome to rule & save their country.

  5. Tiberius liked this idea. The plan was to keep wars as far away from Rome as possible. Artabanus heard of this secret agreement & looked to take revenge. Barbarians see indecision as a weakness & prompt action as king-like. Artabanus invited Abdus (a eunuch with considerable power) to a banquet where he disable him with a lingering poisoning. He bought off the noble, Sinnaces. Phraates died of an illness – not liking his non-Roman life anyway. Tiberius then chose Tiridates & Iberian (Ancient Iberia = Present-day Georgia) Mithridates to recover Armenia. This whole policy was entrusted to Lucius Vitellius – about whom many terrible stories have been told in Rome but he seemed to behave himself abroad. Upon his return years later, he degenerated into servility. This was the beginning of the end of his career.

  6. Mithridates enlisted Parasmanes to help with strategy & force, as well as agents of corruption to force or bribe Arsaces with money. The Iberians burst into Armenia with a large army & took the city of Artaxata. Artabanus gave his son, Orodes, the Parthian army with auxiliaries. Pharasmanes allied with the Albanians (Ancient Albania = Present-day Azerbaijan) & the Sarmatae. The Iberians sent the Sarmatae into Armenia via the Caspian Route. Those supporting the Parthians were easily kept back. All passages except one (between the sea & mountains by the Albanian border) were blocked by the enemy. In the summer most routes are flooded but not in the winter.

  7. Orodes, without a single ally, was challenged to battle by Pharasmanes who was strengthened by reinforcements. Pharasmanes taunted him when he refused, & rode up to the camp. The Parthians didn’t like being insulted & demanded to the king to engage in battle. Their only strength was in cavalry. Pharasmanes had a powerful infantry because the Iberians & Albanians were used to the terrain. They claimed to be descendants of the Thessalians when Jason & Medea lived there, & Medea returned to the empty palace of Aeetes of the Colchi. They have traditions connected to the Oracle of Phrixus. They couldn’t think of sacrificing a ram because it was a sacred animal to the Oracle. Parasmanes reminded his men that they’d been free of Parthian dominance & would return to that state with a win.

  8. The general of the Sarmatae was not alone in his speech. They decided not to start the battle with a volley of arrows. They anticipated hand-to-hand combat to be followed by every variety of conflict. The Parthians decided to lob missiles. The Sarmatae threw aside their arrows & picked up pikes & swords. There was a lot of close-in fighting. The Albanians & Iberians were able to topple Parthians from their horses. Orodes & Pharasmanes saw each other & went to fight one another. Pharasmanes pierced Orodes’s helmet with a stroke. It was believed that Orodes was killed (albeit this was not true) which caused the Parthians to panic & give their enemy the victory.

  9. Artabanus took his entire army looking for vengeance. The Iberians were at an advantage due to their knowledge of the countryside. Artabanus didn’t retreat until Vitellius assembled his legions upon hearing a rumor he intended to invade all of Mesopotamia. Rome’s war alarm was sounded. Armenia was abandoned & Vitellius was able to convince Artabanus’s people to abandon him. Sinnaces started a revolt & many flocked to him seeing him as the way to get rid of the tyrant. Artabanus had no resources except vicious mercenaries. He took them & ran off toward Scythia hoping his family would help him or to wait for the revolts to die down.

  10. Vitellius urged Tiridates to seize power, while he marched the army to the banks of the Euphrates. Sacrifices to the river gods seem to cause the river to bubble conspicuously – a sign of good passage. Some said it wouldn’t last long but a fleet of boats crossed the river with the army. Ornospades entered the camp with a bunch of cavalry. He was an exile who’d given aid to Tiberius at the end of the Dalmatic War & had been given Roman citizenship. Sinnaces reinforced the army & was given the royal treasures by those in charge of them. Vitellius showed the arms of Rome & things calmed down. The legions went back to Syria.

  11. I’ve brought up 2 years worth of war in Parthia just as a form of relief to the reader from all the misery in Rome. Although 3 years had passed since the death of Sejanus, nothing softened Tiberius or kept him from continuing on this warpath. Fulcinius Trio put in his will many insulting accusations against Macro & the emperor’s henchmen. He also insulted Tiberius himself as being in a decrepit state. Trio’s heirs tried to hide these but Tiberius ordered them to be read publicly in a display of his tolerance of free speech to make up for the fact that he had had no clue how things were under Sejanus. Around this time, a senator, Granius Marcianus was accused of treason by Caius Gracchus, but killed himself before execution. Tarius Gatianus, ex-praetor, was also condemned of treason & was executed.

  12. The same fell on Trebellienus Rufus & Sextius Paconianus. Trebellienus killed himself. Paconianus was strangled in prison after having written lampoons on the emperor. Tiberius received all this news as he was stationed near the city walls. He was close enough to receive news from the consuls the same day & was able to watch all the turmoil & destruction that the suicides & executions were causing the capital. By the end of the year, Poppaeus Sabinus died. He had started off low but through friendships with 2 emperors, he’d risen to the consulship. He was governor of many provinces for 24 years.

  13. This year, Quintius Plautius & Sextius Papinius were consuls. The fact that Lucius Aroseius was executed surprised no one given all the death that was going on. Roman knight, Vibulenus Agrippa poisoned himself after being accused. He was rushed off to the executioner to have the job finished so he would be considered to have died by execution rather than suicide. Tigranes, who’d once ruled Armenia, was impeached & executed as a common citizen, not as a king. Caius Galba & the Blaesi killed themselves. Galba did so because of a harsh letter from Tiberius forbidding him to be given a province to rule over. Tiberius withheld priesthoods from the Blaesi & gave them to others. They couldn’t live with it. Aemilia Lepida, who’d married the younger Drusus & lobbed endless accusations against him, remained unpunished as long as her father lived. But after his death, an informer told of her adultery with a slave. She killed herself.

  14. The Clitae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian Archelaus, retreated to Mt. Taurus because they didn’t want to pay sales tax or tribute. They were able to fend off the king’s pitiful troops. Vitellius sent Marcus Trebellius as his lieutenant with 4000 legionaries & some auxiliaries, & surrounded the barbarians who were stationed on 2 hilltops. They surrendered either by force or drought. Tiridates received the submission of several cities, originally founded by Greek Macedonians. Many there happy to  be rid of Artabanus.

  15. Seleucia had never fallen into barbarianism. They had always looked at the Parthians with contempt. When the 300 rich citizens, who made up their Senate, & the people worked together, they could keep away the Parthians. But they were in discord during the reign of Artabanus, who’d put the people at the mercy of the nobles. The city celebrated the arrival of Tiridates & reproached Artabanus as a degenerate. Tiridates gave the people, not the Senate, the power. When he was deciding on a coronation date, he got letters from Phraates & Hiero, who held 2 powerful provinces, asking him to delay it a little bit. Ctesphison was chosen as the capital & scene of his coronation. But as the delay continued, the Surena crowned him, along with the crowd’s approval, with the royal diadem.

  16. He quickly rode off to the countryside & to the tribes who were reluctant to accept him as king – which finally yielded. He besieged a fortress that Artabanes had stashed his treasure & concubines. He gave them time to disown Artabanus which they eventually did. Upset that Tiridates hadn’t waited for them to be present at his coronation, Phraates & Hiero switched their allegiance to Artabanus. They went to see him in Hycania, where they found him having gone completely native. He suspected them of some sort of treachery but once they pledged themselves to restoring him to his throne, he asked why they’d come to his side. Hiero spoke of Tiridates’s young age & inexperience, & hinted that he was efffeminate & illegitimate.

  17. Artabanus was experienced enough to know that men don’t fake hatred very easily. He stayed in Scythia long enough to raise troops & then pushed on to avoid enemy plots & friends’ caprices. He kept his humble garb to endear himself to people. He did everything he could – honestly or dishonestly – to get himself support. He was near Seleucia with a large force. Tiridates heard of Artabanus’s approach & was conflicted between delaying & attacking straight away. On the one hand, the forces of Artabanus were almost certainly tired from marching all the way from Scythia. But an advisor suggested a retreat into Mesopotamia where they could summon help from the Armenians & Elymaeans, as well as Roman legions. This 2nd course of action prevailed mostly out of Tiridates’s cowardice. The retreated looked like a flight to a lot of people. The Arabs either stayed at home or joined Artabanus. Tiridates lost all support he had & it was all over for him.

  18. The same year, Rome had a horrible fire. The circus near the Aventine Hill was burnt, as was the neighborhood itself. Tiberius used this to glorify himself by paying for the damage out of his own pocket – to the tune of 100 million sesterces. Only the Temple of Augustus & Pompey’s Theater were rebuilt from public funds. He did not dedicate them himself. 4 husbands of his granddaughters were appointed to assess the damage, & along with Publius Petronius were nominated as consuls. He was decreed honors but it’s unclear if he didn’t get them due to his old age. Tiberius’s last consuls were Cneius Acerronius & Caius Pontius. During this time, Macro’s power was getting to be excessive. Macro was cultivating Caius Caesar’s favor & after the death of Claudia (who’d been married to Caius), he got his wife to rope him into a love triange, providing that Caius could be ensured of the throne. He had a bad temper but learned from his grandfather how to hide his true feelings.

  19. The emperor was aware of all this & hesitated about bequeathing his empire between his grandsons. Drusus was closest to him but was still a child. Germanicus’s son was young & popular – which gained his grandfather’s hatred. Tiberius had thought of Claudius – he was of a mellow age & had a taste for liberal culture but he wasn’t too bright. But if he was seen looking outside of the family, the Caesars would become a laughing stock of the empire. He was tired & knew the end was near. He taunted those around him & predicted bad things for Macro & Caius Caesar, but embraced the youngest grandson, & told the other he’d both kill & be killed. He kept up his debaucheries & mocked his young doctors.

  20. The seeds of bloodshed to come after Tiberius’s death were being sowed. Publius Vitellius’s ex-wife, Acutia was accused of treason by Laelius Balus. After her condemnation, a reward was being voted for her prosecutor, when Junius Otho, the people’s tribune, vetoed it. This started a feud between Vitellius & Otho, leading to Otho’s banishment. Known for her numerous loversm Albucilla was charged with irreverence toward the emperor. Her lovers, Cneius Domitius, Vibius Marsus & Lucius Arruntius were also implicated. In the notes, it’s indicated that Macro oversaw every aspect of the investigation. It was clear that the emperor played no role in the matter.

  21. Domitius & Marsus prolonged their lives – Marsus via starvation. Arruntius’s people tried to convince him to delay death. Arruntius was tired after dealing with Sejanus. Now he had to deal with Macro, despite never having done anything wrong. Having a dying emperor bought him some time but how would it be under a new, young man? Was it possible that Caius would be any better? Especially under Macro’s influence? He couldn’t deal with the idea of slavery in his old age & so chose to die. Albucilla had botched an attempt at suicide & was sent to prison. Sacerdos & Fragellanus were sentenced for sleeping with her & were sent to an island, losing their senatorial rank. Balbus had the same fate – interesting because he was wont to attack the innocent.

  22. Around that time, Sextius Papinius, of a consular rank, chose a shocking death for himself by jumping from a great height. His mother’s attempts to seduce him were to blame for his suicide. She was put on trial in the Senate. Despite her pleas, she was banished from Rome for 10 years until her younger son would no longer be of a tender age.

  23. Tiberius’s strength was leaving him but not his skill in lying. His spirits & stern looks remained the same, & he tried to hide his weakness. After moving around a bit, he settled at a cliff-side house in Misenum once owned by Lucius Lucullus. His doctor, Charicles, was the best of his profession, hired to make the emperor comfortable. The doctor told Macro that Tiberius had about 2 days left. His breath was short on March 15 & it was believed that he died. Caius was busy being congratulated when news came that Tiberius was recovering. This caused a general panic, at which point Macro ordered the emperor be smothered with a pile of laundry.

  24. Tiberius died at 78. His father was Nero & he was descended from the Claudian family on both sides. His young was quite volatile, being an exile accompanying his proscribed father. Finally he was taken into Augustus’s family, with many rivals, as Marcellus, Agrippa, Caius & Lucius Caesar were in their prime. His brother, Drusus, was more popular with the people than he was. He was on dangerous ground in his marriage with Julia, as she was a serial adulteress. When he returned from Rhodes, he ruled the emperor’s house for 12 years & the Roman world for 23 years. His character went through distinct periods. Under Augustus, he was either a private citizen or held high offices. In this time, he was reserved & had the appearance of virtue, which was the case as long as Germanicus & Drusus were alive. With his mother around, he was a mixture of good & evil. He was infamous for his cruelty but hid his debauchery while Sejanus was around. After Sejanus’s death, he plunged into wickedness & disgrace, indulging himself in his every inclination.


NB! The Book 6 continues but the rest of it & Books 7, 8, 9 & 10, spanning years A.D. 37-47, have been lost through the ages…



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