Sir Patrick Stewart in the title role of the BBC drama series "I, Sejanus"



Among the more speculative of revisionist historians, it has been argued that had it not been for the decision of the Emperor Tiberius, one of the most momentus decisions of the age, to establish his estate upon his Praetorian Prefect Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the era of the dynastic emperors later founded by the usurper Vespasian might have begun with the birth of the Principate. This is a fanciful notion, easily dismissed. The labour-pains of the Empire had pruned the family tree of those original Caesars so far that no blood descendant could be found to succeed Augustus, Tiberius being related by marriage only, and it is hard to envisage serious candidates for a continued line of Julian - or, perhaps more properly, 'Julio-Claudian' - succession. Young Gaius, often known by his nickname 'Caligula' after the 'little boots' he had been given to wear as part of a legionary costume as a child, had shown promise until his brutal murder at the hands of Sejanus' praetorians. But absent issue of his, or emerging sparks of brilliance from Tiberius' much-ignored grandson Gemellus, it is difficult to see who else of the family might have aspired to the imperial throne (certainly Gaius' uncle Claudius, widely regarded as an idiot, could under no circumstances have presented a serious claim). No, scholarly consensus has it that the time, place and situation made Sejanus' takeover inevitable - and he achieved it by means of the Principate's first military coup.

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