Tiberius is known today, if at all, as the man who greased the Roman Empire’s slide into the degenerate dictatorships of Caligula, Claudius and Nero. So let’s take a look at the reign of Tiberius (14-37), and at what’s happening in our own country today, as our emperor and his sycophantic Senate grease our slide.
Tiberius was “quite unperturbed by abuse, slanders, or lampoons on himself and his family, and would often say that liberty to speak and think as one pleases is the test of a free country.”
This according to Suetonius, the greatest gossip columnist of all time, secretary to the Emperor Hadrian.
Hadrian eventually fired Suetonius — but didn’t kill him! — for reasons of which we are unaware. Probably for doing his job — reporting.
Here are some other things that Tiberius did: a world-historical figure, who could have been worse.
He had sex with little boys and girls, and never denied it, and refused to prosecute or even criticize people who denounced him for it.
“Open that window, and you will let in such a rush of denunciations as to waste your whole working day,” Tiberius told his Senate. “Everyone will take this as an opportunity of airing some private feud.”
When insulted on the floor of the Senate, Tiberius replied: “If So-and-So challenges me, I shall lay before you a careful account of what I have said and done. If that does not satisfy him, I shall reciprocate his dislike of me.”
That’s all the emperor said to the Republican Senate — and offered to lay before them an account of all that he had said and done.
Tiberius “showed an almost excessive courtesy when addressing individual senators and the House as a body,” according to Suetonius.
“If decrees were passed in defiance of his wishes, he abstained from complaint.”
“He even stood up when the Consuls appeared, and made way when meeting them on the streets.”
“Once it happened that the Senate put a motion to the vote; Tiberius went into the minority lobby and not a soul followed him.”
(You mean Republican senators once had guts bigger than their tiny testicles?)
“If it came to his ears that influence was being used to acquit a criminal in some court or other, he would suddenly appear and address the jury … asking them to remember the sanctity of the Law and their oath to uphold it, and the serious nature of the crime on which their verdict was required.”
All these quotations come from Robert Graves’ translation of Suetonius’ history, The Twelve Caesars.
Finally, Tiberius “issued an edict against promiscuous kissing.” Whatever that means. Sounds like fun. Hell, I’d risk it.
The Roman Empire was still, technically, a republic, though its greatest modern historian, Ronald Syme, wrote that “The Roman constitution was a screen and a sham.”
Skipping ahead to Caligula — Tiberius’ anointed successor — Suetonius says: “It would be hard to say whether the way he got married, the way he dissolved his marriages, or the way he behaved as a husband was the most disgraceful.”
When Caligula’s great-aunt Antonia gently reproved him for his many and increasing brutalities, Caligula tweeted — excuse me, I mean, shouted: “Bear in mind that I am emperor, and can treat anyone exactly as I please!”
This brings us to today: to don john Trump’s claim that our Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president!”
How far we’ve come since the days of the Roman emperors, whose constitution was a screen and a sham.
Hey, my fellow Americans?
How far have we come?
(Courthouse News columnist Robert Kahn’s favorite Roman emperors are Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Julian the Apostate and Marcus Aurelius — in that order. He wishes his dog Titus could have met Incitatus — Caligula’s favorite horse. Kahn will bet, on the basis of hundreds of empirical observations, that Titus would have licked Incitatus on the nose.)