chapter  4
35 Pages

The new emperor

The death of an emperor, even a remote and uncharismatic one, is an inherently dramatic event, and word of Tiberius’ demise would have travelled the 120 or so miles from Misenum to Rome in record time. Until the news had sunk in properly, reaction in the city was decidedly guarded. Herod Agrippa’s freedman, Marsyas, might announce the news to his master with a grand melodramatic flourish: ‘the lion is dead’, but Agrippa’s jailer simply refused to believe the story, and his attitude was not untypical. Romans generally were reluctant to trust what they were hearing, suspecting a trick to test their loyalty, and conflicting rumours were spread that Tiberius was in fact alive and would soon turn up in person. As the truth gradually took hold, anxiety gave way to jubilation. People gave vent to long suppressed resentments, and damned Tiberius’ soul for eternity. His physical remains were also the subject of spirited discussion. Should he be thrown down the Gemonian stairs (the fate of common criminals)? Or hurled into the river (‘Tiberius in Tiberim!’ was the popular slogan)? Or even taken to the amphitheatre at Atella (near Misenum) and half-cremated (a sign of disrespect)?1