The political situation in 26AD - Lucius Aelius Sejanus.
March 22nd, 2002
Received by H.
My dear brother:
During Tiberius’ rule, something unique happened: Two people occupied jointly, during one year, the position of the praetorian prefect. The praetorians, as I have already mentioned, were the emperor’s bodyguards, and in later times frequently murdered the emperor himself and enthroned another, and as in the case of Nero, which we will see later, they exercised so much influence over the regent that they manipulated him like a puppet on a string.
The two praetorian prefects were Lucius Sejus Strabo and his adopted son Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Sejanus was born in Volsinii in Etruria. In the year 15 Tiberius rewarded Strabo with the position of prefect of Egypt, one of the most important and richest provinces in the empire. That meant, as everybody knew, that Strabo could accumulate vast riches.
When the legions in Panonia mutinied against Tiberius, the emperor sent Sejanus together with Drusus, the son of Agrippina and Germanicus, the declared heir to the throne, to repress the rebellion. Drusus considered that to indicate a lack of confidence in his person, and developed a strong aversion against the chief of the praetorians. When his father, Germanicus, died, the tension between both characters grew even worse.
But Sejanus proved his administrative ability and his loyalty to the emperor on many occasions. First, he ordered the building of barracks for the praetorians, who until then had lived dispersed throughout the city, in order to be able to mobilize them more quickly. Then, during a fire in a theater of Pompeii that threatened to destroy the whole town, Sejanus took charge of the rescue works, and the town really was saved. In gratefulness, Tiberius erected a statue in Sejanus’ honor in front of the rebuilt theater. On one occasion, on the island of Capri, Sejanus protected the emperor with his own body, when a cave that they were visiting collapsed. In short, Tiberius’ trust in his prefect was unconditional.
His stepfather Strabo’s death conferred some wealth on Sejanus. However, as we will see, that money did not last very long and he had to look for other sources of income.
One day, Sejanus took a dangerous risk. He started a relationship with the wife of Drusus, the heir who hated him from the bottom of his heart. Lavilla, the unfaithful wife, together with Sejanus forged a plot to murder her husband. Drusus was poisoned, and he died after a short “disease.” Many people suspected Sejanus, but nobody dared to denounce him. With Drusus, the last of the inner circle of heirs to the throne had died. And this led Sejanus to think that he could inherit the power.
The problem he faced in his aspiration was that he did not belong to the high nobility, and so he would not find any support among the noblemen. He was only an “eques,” a knight, from lower nobility.
Drusus’ death put Tiberius in an uncomfortable situation. We have already seen how he hated to be the emperor, but his oldest male family members were the children of Drusus, all of them too young. Tiberius was under obligation to continue as the emperor without being able to abdicate in favor of one of his possible successors. However, he wanted to retire from Rome, to abandon everything and to live his free life on the island of Capri that he loved so much. He needed a strong man, a capable administrator: And he had such a man, in the person of Sejanus! Finally, in the year 26, Tiberius retired, leaving Sejanus with almost dictatorial powers in Rome.
From that moment on, Sejanus used all his power and influence to take control little by little. Even the correspondence for Tiberius passed through his hands, and the emperor on the distant island in the future would only read what Sejanus deemed appropriate.
Sejanus immediately began to conspire against the imperial family, accusing Agrippina, Drusus’ mother, of betrayal, and on the other hand advising her to flee from the city with her son Nero, because her life was in danger. But Agrippina did not leave the city, and Tiberius did not pay attention to Sejanus’ accusation.
Sejanus knew that he had to improve his social position, that is to say, to ascend in the scale of nobility’s hierarchy, and he asked Tiberius for his permission to marry Lavilla, Drusus’ widow. However, the emperor refused. He already had begun to suspect something, but he was not sure. At any rate, he did not want to open to Sejanus the doors to high nobility.
Then Sejanus began to change the commanding generals of the army, replacing them with men of his trust, and spent enormous amounts of money in bribes to win favors. So his considerable inheritance dripped away. He needed money, and urgently!
It was then that Sejanus remembered that the Temple of Jerusalem was where more money accumulated and circulated than in any other place in the empire. And just a little time before retiring to Capri, Tiberius had called back the prefect of Judea, Valerius Gratus, to Rome. Sejanus took advantage of that opportunity to name his personal friend Publius Pontius Pilatus as his successor to the vacant position. Pilate’s work would include guaranteeing a continuous flow of money into the vaults of Sejanus.
The period of service for a prefect or provincial governor was usually three years, as in the cases of Coponius, Marcus Ambivulus and Annius Rufus, the first three prefects from Judea, from the year 6, after Archelaus’ destitution, to the year 15. Valerius Gratus, however, served eleven years, up to the year 26, because Tiberius tried to maintain more continuity in provincial administration. Pilate would serve until the year 36 in Palestine. But of him, we will speak in a separate message.
From the year 26 until the year 30, Tiberius eulogized Sejanus in all possible ways. Motivated by a mixture of uncertainty and fear, he even named him consul of the Senate, he coined money bearing his name, he ordered the celebration of public sacrifices in his honor, etc. However, in the year 30, Tiberius’ sister-in-law, Antonia, who had always stayed away from intrigues and politics, sent an accusation to the emperor, accusing Sejanus of conspiracy and treason. She detailed the methods that this man used, and convinced Tiberius.
Tiberius was fearful. All of Rome was under Sejanus’ control. He could not trust the troops, whose commanders were installed by Sejanus. What could he do?
First, in his letters of commendation for Sejanus, which were read publicly in the Senate, some slight critiques began to appear. Then he prohibited public sacrifices for people still alive, that is to say, for Sejanus. And finally, when the praetorian prefect wanted to arrest and execute an opposing leader of the Senate, Tiberius impeded it.
Finally, in the month of October, Tiberius carried out his mortal blow against the traitor. Secretly, on the island of Capri, he named Quintus Sutorius Macro prefect of the praetorians. Macro traveled to Rome with a letter from Tiberius, which would be read publicly in the Senate. Macro told Sejanus that this letter contained the order of conferring imperial powers onto Sejanus, naming him practically Tiberius’ heir. Sejanus was pleased.
But when they arrived at the Senate, Macro first had another letter read, his appointment as the new praetorian prefect. Sejanus was confused. Macro sent the praetorians to their barracks, and surrounded the Senate with his own loyal soldiers. Then, when the second letter was read, a letter which was intentionally endlessly long and boring, Macro moved to the barracks of the praetorians and made sure of their loyalty.
At the end of the letter, Tiberius had written an open accusation of betrayal against Sejanus, who was taken prisoner immediately. When the senators saw people cheering and the praetorians’ loyalty to the emperor, they condemned Sejanus at once and had him executed on the same night, strangling him.
Well, my brother, this was the story of Sejanus. As you see, during the Master’s entire public ministry, Sejanus was at the peak of his career and power. He was the “strong man” of Rome, not Tiberius, and Pilate’s loyalty was to him and not to the emperor. All that would have serious consequences for the Master’s destiny. But this we will see later. Next time, I would like to deliver a similar message on Pilate.
H.: May I ask a question? You said that Pilate’s name was Publius Pontius Pilatus. In fact, all history books say that we do not know his first name. Is it true that his name was Publius? On a web page, I read “Lucius Pontius Pilatus.”
His first name was Publius, yes, this is true. I remember very well how people made fun of him, not openly, of course, as the “quadruple P,” Publius Pontius Pilatus Praefectus. On that web page, they possibly inserted Lucius in allusion to Sejanus, who had this name.
By the way, there is one more thing I wish to tell you: Do you remember yesterday’s mail, on poverty?
H.: Yes, I remember.
(Yesterday somebody sent me the following story:
One day a father took to his little son to take a trip to the countryside, with the purpose of showing him how poorly people live there.
That day they spent visiting some rural friends, who formed a very poor family.
When they returned from the trip, the father asked his son, “How did you like the trip?”
“I liked it very much, dad.”
“Did you see how poor people are?” the father asked him.
“What are you talking about, dad?” his son replied. “I saw that they have four dogs, on the other hand, we have just one.
We have a pool that scarcely stretches halfway into the garden, they have a river that never ends.
We have lamps in the garden, they have stars.
Our patio ends with the neighbor’s wall, theirs ends with the horizon.
They have time to sit down and converse, but, you and mom have to work the whole day and I never see you.”
When the small boy finished, his father looked in silence.
His son added, “Thank you, dad, for showing me so much wealth and letting me know how poor we are.”
Everything depends on how your see things.
If you have love, friends, family, health, good humor and a positive attitude toward life — you have everything!
You cannot buy any of these things.
You may have all possessions that money can buy, but if you are poor of spirit, you have nothing.
Well, my friend, at the beginning you liked the story. But then you thought of the poor people on the Ecuadorian coast, how they live right now in the water up to their waist and have lost everything because of the floods. In fact, it is not so romantic to be poor. Because if they had money, they could abandon these shanties where they live, and move to their flats in the city, to wait until the catastrophe passes, and then fix the damage. But they cannot. They don’t have any place else to go.
It is true that poverty is not romantic when one has to live it. However, this small story also teaches you other things: always try to see the positive side of things. And when you really cannot find it, never forget that there is Somebody who is always willing to help. And in order for Him to do so, you have to trust Him and to ask Him. He never lets you down. And as a last teaching, stop trying to control your life. Give Him the control. He knows better to manage things than we all do. Situations often are difficult. However, despair makes them desperate. If you have faith, then you have hope, and if you have hope, then you will overcome anything.
Well, it is enough for today. We will see you soon.
God bless you.
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013