Books 5 and 6 of Tacitus' Annals, when complete, carried the narrative of Tiberius' reign from A.D. 29 to 37. Unfortunately, most of Book 5 has been lost, and, with it, Tacitus' account of the sensational events that led to the execution on 18 October in A.D. 31 of Aelius Sejanus, hitherto Tiberius' trusted friend and adviser. Nevertheless, Annals 6, the text of which resumes the narrative less than two weeks after Sejanus' death, contains a fascinating variety of incidents both at Rome and on Capri, to which Tiberius had retired permanently in A.D. 27. At Rome Sejanus' death was followed by a spate of prosecutions of those who had been, or were alleged to have been, his supporters. Not all these cases originated with Tiberius, but it was he who, almost two years after Sejanus' death, ordered the execution of all those who were still held in gaol as fellow-conspirators of Sejanus; and it was Tiberius' continued persecution that drove Agrippina, Germanicus' widow, and her eldest surviving son, Drusus, to suicide in the same year.
But, in addition to all the material that portrays Tiberius in a highly unfavourable light, there is much in Annals 6 that shows a very different side to his character: Tiberius' intervention solves a major financial crisis and makes good the losses sustained in a disastrous fire on the Aventine; and when, in the last years of his reign, military action was called for on the Eastern frontier, Tiberius' choice of the general to handle operations and the strategy to be followed was judicious and successful. Whereas Suetonius talks of an elderly emperor who discarded all interest in public affairs from the time he retired to Capri, Tactius portrays a more complex character one in which cruelty and vice stand alongside a deep concern for Rome's prosperity at home and abroad. Annals 6 provides an absorbing account of the varied aspects of the behaviour and personality of Rome's most enigmatic emperor during the final years of his life. This volume now completes the modern English commentary on the 'Tiberian hexad'.
Ronald Martin is Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Tacitus, which is generally acknowledged as the best introduction in English to Rome's greatest historian. In addition to numerous articles on Tacitus he is joint editor, with Professor A.J. Woodman, of editions of Annals 3 and 4.