Trials before Sejanus

Even before the rise of Sejanus, there were a number of important trials or legal acts.

Aemilia Lepida, a member of one of the leading families, tried for adultery and poisoning. Found guilty (AD 20).

Found guilty of adultery with Julia the Younger, Tiberius allows him back at the intervention of Marcus Junius Silanus, his brother, but he is forced to remain in private life (ie Tiberius does not reverse Augustus’ sentence) (AD 20). See also trial of Gaius Junius Silanus for the importance of this family.

Trial for maiestas. Charge thrown out and the prosecutors prosecuted for malicious prosecution (AD 21) .

Trial for corruption while governor of Crete and Cyrene, which turned into a trial for maiestas. Implication of guilty verdict (AD 21).

Trial for corruption in Macedonia in which Vetus was acquitted. Then tried for maiestas and found guilty (AD 21).

Lutorius Priscus was a poet who was rewarded for a poem on the death of Germanicus. He was tried for treason for writing another on the death of Drusus, who had been ill, but was not dead. Although there was some opposition in the senate, he was executed at senatorial request (AD 21).

Cordus was tried for corruption in Cyrene. Found guilty (AD 22)

Ennius was accused of melting down a statue of the emperor. Tiberius threw the case out (AD 22).

We do not necessarily have a complete list, but we have eight major cases in 3 years, and more if we include Piso and those close to him. It might be tempting to play down these trials: some of the people were undoubtedly guilty; such trials were part of the political business of Rome. But these trials threatened at the least social and political ruin and at the most death. Compared with modern political rivalries, the stakes were very high.

We should also remember that Roman politicians were in the role for life. They were not voted out. For many, being a senator was who they were. Any fall was catastrophic. The removal of a number of important figures was not unprecedented, since Rome remembered the civil wars, but certainly exceptional turmoil.

We also need to remember that the Roman elite was very close-knit. There had been just over 300 senators present at the trial of Piso. If we presume a senate of 400 or so, then we see that they were quite a small group. Many of them were related. We have already seen various instances of brothers serving in the senate. They were also around a long time and made and kept many friends. They married into each other’s families.

  • What did people think when their brother or sister fell victim to a political trial?
  • What did they think when friends that they had known for years, with whom they had grown up were disgraced?

These were attacks within a community and often on trivial political grounds. Many must have wonder who would be next.

Next came the rise of Sejanus.







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