In the dark of night, sometime in the year 24, a noblewoman named Apronia fell to her death from a high window in the city of Rome. With her at the time was her husband, Plautius Silvanus, a praetor of Rome—a high government official ranked just under the consuls. When the body of Apronia was discovered, the authorities immediately suspected Silvanus. During his interview, he claimed to have been asleep during the incident and that his wife must have committed suicide.
The case was high profile enough that the ruler of Rome at the time, Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), was said to have gone in person to the scene of the crime. After conducting his own investigation of the premises, Tiberius concluded that there were signs of a violent struggle in the home. Convinced that a violent crime had been committed, Emperor Tiberius brought Plautius Silvanus before the Roman Senate to be tried for murder. The senators must not have believed Silvanus’ story, for the praetor’s own grandmother, Urgulania (a friend of Tiberius’ mother), had a dagger sent to Silvanus, giving him a not-too-subtle message telling him to either fight his way out of custody or to commit suicide. Sadly, Silvanus decided to follow the latter path and, after two attempts, managed to end his own life.
Yet, even after the prime suspect’s death, the investigation into Apronia’s murder remained active. Silvanus’ ex-wife, Numantina, was also tried for involvement in the murder. She was accused of using incantations and potions in order to induce madness in Silvanus, causing him to push his wife out of the window. Fortunately, she was eventually acquitted of all charges and was released, leaving all the blame on the deceased praetor.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture attribution: (The Death (defenestration) of Jezebel, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.