For most of Emperor Tiberius’ reign (r. 14-37), a man named Sextus Marius was the richest man in the Roman-controlled Iberian Peninsula. His enormous wealth came from several productive copper and gold mines, which supplied an enviable stream of income. Around the year 33, however, Sextus Marius’ fortune was about to dramatically turn.
During the reign of Tiberius, trials of misconduct, corruption and treason seemed to constantly occur. For about half of his reign, Tiberius was fairly lenient in the endless court cases and many of the people charged with crimes by the Senate were released on Tiberius’ command during this early period. Most of the high-profile judicial deaths that did occur in Tiberius’ opening years happened because of defendants who committed suicide before the trial was concluded. Yet, several events occurred in the middle of Tiberius’ reign that made the emperor noticeably more bitter and tyrannical. The three most significant incidents included the death of the emperor’s son, Drusus (d. 23, possibly by assassination), the death of Tiberius’ mother, Livia (d. 29), and the execution of the emperor’s chief advisor, Sejanus (d. 31), after he was allegedly discovered to have organized the earlier assassination of Tiberius’ son. By the year 27, Tiberius had already retreated from Rome to the Island of Capri, and after the death of his mother and the execution of Sejanus, the emperor seemingly lost interest in caring for his empire, allowing corruption and oppression to flourish.
So, when the wealthy Sextus Marius was called before the Senate to stand trial in the year 33, Emperor Tiberius was no longer his old, more forgiving, self. The charges that Sextus Marius had been called forth to answer were those of committing incest with his daughter, a claim of unknown validity. The 1st-2nd century historian and statesman, Tacitus (c. 56-117), for his part, believed that the charges were false, but he was also an obsessive critic of Tiberius, suspicious of everything that happened during the emperor’s reign. Whatever the truth, the Senate found Sextus Marius guilty of the crime and condemned him to death. He was executed by being thrown off the steep Tarpeian Rock, in Rome. Tacitus theorized that the death had been a conspiracy led by Tiberius, for, after the execution, the emperor seized all of the man’s numerous copper and gold mines.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (“Punishment of Cassius”, by Augustyn Mirys (c. 1700-1790)-Public Domain).
- The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.