Lucius Aelius Seianus

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Lucius Aelius Seianus (* around 20 BC in Volsinii , Etruria , † October 18, 31 in Rome ), German Sejan , was a Praetorian prefect in the Roman Empire and for a time the most influential citizen of Rome.



Seianus was the son of Eques and Praetorian prefect Lucius Seius Strabo . He was of Aelius Gallus , a relative of his grandmother from the family of Aelier , adopted . According to the Roman naming convention , his birth name Seius became the epithet Seianus. He was married to Apicata , possibly a daughter of Marcus Gavius ​​Apicius .

Political rise

According to Tacitus, Seianus is said to have been a friend of Augustus ' grandson Gaius Caesar in his youth and to have ingratiated himself with Tiberius after his death . When Emperor Tiberius ascended the throne in 14, he was appointed Praetorian prefect alongside his biological father. Since his father was praefectus Aegypti (governor of Egypt ) in the same year , Seianus was the sole commander of the Praetorian Guard , which he now used as a basis for increasing his power, among other things by keeping them in the Castra praetoria , a single camp the Viminal outside Rome. In the course of the following years he became an important advisor to the emperor, who showered him with honors and, among other things , betrothed Claudius 'son Claudius Drusus to Seianus' 4-year-old daughter in 20 AD. However, Claudius Drusus died a little later. Some relatives of Seianus such as his uncle Blaesus and his brother Lucius Seius Tubero also benefited from Seianus' position with the emperor. His adoptive sister Aelia Paetina even married in the year 28 into the imperial family.

Later tradition imputed Seianus plans to put himself at the head of the state. He also seduced Livilla , the wife of Tiberius' son Drusus , out of sheer lust for power and cast his wife away for it. He is said to have been the father of Livilla's sons Tiberius Gemellus and Germanicus Gemellus († 23 AD), born in 19 AD . By eliminating people he disliked, including the heir to the throne Drusus in 23, who is said to have been poisoned by Seianus after a dispute, where Livilla herself helped him, he is said to have consolidated his power over the Senate . In 25 he attempted to marry Drusus' widow Livilla, which would have made him a member of the imperial family himself, but Tiberius warned him not to exceed his rank.

According to Tacitus, on behalf of Tiberius, he is said to have caused the downfall of the popular Germanicus family . The aim was to prevent Agrippina from bringing her sons, the biological descendants of Augustus, to power with the help of the Senate. After Seianus was unable to get close to the virtuous Agrippina, he had her friend and cousin Claudia Pulchra accused and convicted of high treason and fornication in AD 26 . At the same time he promoted Agrippina's distrust of the emperor. Tiberius forbade her to remarry and to leave the house.

Seianus was allegedly responsible for Tiberius' withdrawal from Rome in the year 26 and his final settlement on the island of Capri the following year, because he stirred up the emperor's fear of a conspiracy of Agrippina and confirmed his long-term desire to withdraw. It strengthened Tiberius' trust in him even more when he threw himself protectively over him when a cave collapsed. The absence of the emperor made Seianus, as his deputy, in fact the most powerful man in Rome. He alone determined what the emperor learned from Rome. He had his own birthday declared a Roman holiday, he had coins minted with his name on the lapel (and the portrait and name of Tiberius on the obverse) and publicly honored by erecting statues with his likeness. In doing so, he equated the cult around himself with that of the emperor. 28 he succeeded in strengthening his ties to the imperial family with the marriage of his adoptive sister Aelia Paetina to Tiberius' nephew Claudius.

The death of the imperial mother Livia Drusilla in 29 AD finally gave him a free hand. He spread rumors about Agrippina and had the sons Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar spied on until he finally found a charge that led to the banishment of Agrippina and her two older sons 29 and 30. He used Livillas again, whose daughter Iulia Livia was married to Nero Caesar. According to Cassius Dio , he then became engaged to the young widow.


Coin with the erased name of Seianus on the lapel

The developments that led to Seianus' sudden fall have not been satisfactorily clarified. In the year 31, Seianus became consul and was subsequently given a proconsular empire , making his position unassailable. Simultaneously with him and his eldest son Strabo, the last surviving son of Germanicus, Gaius ( Caligula ), received a priesthood. In the meantime, Seianus was betrothed to Livilla and was about to marry into the imperial family.

Many modern historians follow the account of the ancient sources and assume that Seianus tried to gain power through intrigue, and that this was foiled. Seianus supposedly intended to have the young Caligula eliminated in order to secure the succession of Livilla's (and his) 12-year-old son Tiberius Gemellus and to rule in his place. Tiberius, however, was discovered by Livilla's mother Antonia , the widow of his brother Drusus .

It is undisputed: Tiberius had Seianus arrested by Naevius Sutorius Macro , the prefect of the vigiles , to whom he had delegated special powers because he was unsure who the Praetorians were loyal to. Seianus was sentenced to death by the Senate and executed together with his children in the Tullianum and exhibited on the Gemonian Staircase . His daughter, who was still a virgin, was raped beforehand because it was considered a crime to execute virgins. Macro succeeded him as commander of the Praetorian Guard.

Seianus fell to the Damnatio memoriae . Its statues were smashed. His adoptive sister divorced Claudius. The outcast wife Apicata confessed in the course of the process of revenge against Livilla her co-science of Seianus' and Livilla's murder of Drusus. She then committed suicide. Livilla and other alleged accomplices were executed. In the years that followed, numerous senators and knights were suspected of having supported the Seianus' plans, executed or forced to commit suicide.

Historical assessment

Suetonius in his biography of Tiberius and Tacitus in his annals report with an extremely negative tendency about Seianus' life and fall . Both wrote several decades apart. On the other hand, the contemporary Velleius Paterculus drew a positive image of Seianus , although his work was created when Seianus was at the height of his power.

As mentioned, the events surrounding Seianus are difficult to judge as all sources are extremely partial. That he aspired to the empire for himself can be considered rather unlikely - despite his offices and dignities, he was only a Roman knight until shortly before his death; only 200 years later would non-senators succeed in becoming emperors. According to many researchers, this was probably still unthinkable under Tiberius: the purple was of course only reserved for members of the urban Roman nobility . On the other hand, Augustus himself was originally a Roman knight; after Seianus had been admitted to the Senate, he might have been considered as princeps after all .

However, it was precisely his fall that showed that Seianus' power was in truth limited; since he did not have sufficient auctoritas of his own , he was defenseless when Tiberius withdrew his borrowed power. There is some evidence that Seianus Tiberius served as a tool to get rid of the unpleasant competition that the succession of his own descendants arose with the family of Germanicus. However, some researchers also see the involvement of the Seianus in the not exactly known allegations against the family of the Germanicus as at best minor. At most towards the end, when it became clear that the emperor would drop him, Seianus actually considered a coup - if at all. But clarity about this will probably never be gained.


Juvenal dealt with the fall of Seianus in his 10th satire. The English playwright Ben Jonson wrote a tragedy called Sejanus in 1603 . His case , which deals with Seianus' fall. In the BBC TV series I, Claudius from 1976, Seianus was played by Patrick Stewart .




  1. Tacitus, Annals 4.1
  2. Tacitus, Annals 3,10; Suetonius, Claudius 27
  3. ^ Robin Seager: Tiberius (Blackwell Ancient Lives) 2005, p. 152.
  4. Tacitus, Annals 4,3;
  5. Tacitus, Annals 4.10
  6. Tacitus, Annals 4.40
  7. Tacitus, Annalen 4, 52, 1ff .; 4, 66, 2; Cassius Dio 59, 19, 1.
  8. Tacitus, Annals 4.67
  9. Cassius Dio 58,3,9.
  10. ^ Robin Seager: Tiberius , p. 183.
  11. ^ Robin Seager: Tiberius , p. 153.
  12. According to Cassius Dio (66, 14, 2) Antonia had dictated the incriminating document to her slave Caenis , who later became Vespasian's lover .
  13. Tacitus, Annals 4.12.
  14. Tacitus: Annalen 6,5,6,3 .
  15. Velleius Paterculus, Historia romana 2,127–128
  16. Suetonius, Tiberius 55
  17. Dieter Hennig : L. Aelius Seianus. Investigations into the government of Tiberius . Munich 1975, pp. 45-52; see. David CA Shotter: Agrippina the Elder - a Woman in a Man's World . In: Historia 49, 2000, pp. 341-357.
  18. So Dieter Hennig: L. Aelius Seianus , pp. 145–155; Barbara Levick : Tiberius the Politician . London 1999, pp. 173-175.