‘One Who Is Despised’
THE Roman historian Suetonius wrote a history of twelve Caesars. The son of a Roman knight, Suetonius got much of his information about the worst of the Caesars from eyewitnesses. He himself lived nearly thirty years under the Caesars and had ready access to the Imperial and Senatorial archives. It is interesting to note Suetonius’ description of Tiberius Caesar, the one referred to prophetically by the Bible as “one who is to be despised”; that is, because of his bad qualities. (Dan. 11:21) Suetonius writes concerning this despised person in his work The Twelve Caesars (translated by Robert Graves):
● “Some signs of Tiberius’s savage and dour character could be distinguished even in his boyhood. Theodorus the Gadarene, who taught him rhetoric, seems to have been the first to do so, since, on having occasion to reprove Tiberius, he would call him ‘mud, kneaded with blood!’ But after he became Emperor, while he was still gaining popular favour by a pretence of moderation, there could be no doubt that Theodorus had been right. . . .
● “A praetor asked Tiberius whether, in his opinion, courts should be convened to try cases of lèse majesté. Tiberius replied that the law must be enforced; and enforce it he did, most savagely, too. One man was accused of decapitating an image of Augustus with a view to substituting another head; his case was tried before the Senate and, finding a conflict of evidence, Tiberius had the witnesses examined under torture. The offender was sentenced to death, which provided a precedent for farfetched accusations: people could now be executed for . . . changing their own clothes, close to an image of Augustus, or for carrying a ring or coin, bearing Augustus’s head, into a privy or a brothel; or for criticizing anything Augustus had ever said or done. The climax came when a man died merely for letting an honour be voted him by his native town council on the same day that honours had once been voted to Augustus.
● “Tiberius did so many other wicked deeds under the pretext of reforming public morals—but in reality to gratify his lust for seeing people suffer—that many satires were written against the evils of the day . . .
● “A few days after he came to Capri a fisherman suddenly intruded on his solitude by presenting him with an enormous mullet, which he had lugged up the trackless cliffs at the rear of the island. Tiberius was so scared that he ordered his guards to rub the fisherman’s face with the mullet. The scales skinned it raw, and the poor fellow shouted in his agony: ‘Thank Heaven, I did not bring Caesar that huge crab I also caught!’ Tiberius sent for the crab and had it used in the same way. . . .
● “Soon Tiberius broke out in every sort of cruelty and never lacked for victims: these were, first, his mother’s friends and less intimate acquaintances; . . . finally, those of Sejanus [commander of the Praetorian Guards, also executed]. With Sejanus out of the way his savageries increased; which proved that Sejanus had not, as some thought, been inciting him to commit them, but merely providing the opportunities that he demanded. . . .
● “A detailed list of Tiberius’s barbarities would take a long time to compile; I shall content myself with a few samples. Not a day, however holy, passed without an execution. . . . Many of his men victims were accused and punished with their children—some actually by their children—and the relatives forbidden to go into mourning. Special awards were voted to the informers who had denounced them and, in certain circumstances, to the witnesses too. An informer’s word was always believed. . . .
● “The bodies of all executed persons were flung on the Stairs of Mourning, and dragged to the Tiber with hooks—as many as twenty a day, including women and children. Tradition forbade the strangling of virgins; so, when little girls had been condemned to die in this way, the executioner began by violating them. . . . In Capri they still show the place at the cliff top where Tiberius used to watch his victims being thrown into the sea . . .
● “Much evidence is extant, not only of the hatred that Tiberius earned but of the state of terror in which he himself lived, and the insults heaped upon him. . . . The first news of his death caused such joy at Rome that people ran about yelling: ‘To the Tiber with Tiberius!’ and others offered prayers to Mother Earth and the Infernal Gods to give him no home below except among the damned.”
● Truly Tiberius Caesar was a person despised.