Page 229. " Here another of my nieces was born, who was given the unlucky name of Julia "

Germanicus had two daughters named Julia, this being the second (it was not unusual for Roman sisters to share a name and to be referred to, for example, as Julia Major and Julia Minor). Claudius considers the name (one of the most common female names in Rome at the time) to be "unlucky" because of the association with Julia Augusti Filia, but states that he always called his niece "Lesbia" (she was born on the island of Lesbos), a name made equally scandalous by Catullus's poetry.

Page 238. " My poor brother was growing hourly weaker "

Germanicus, The Louvre
Creative Commons AttributionGermanicus, The Louvre - Credit: Jastrow
Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 BC - 19 AD), Claudius's brother and the adopted son of Tiberius, became along with Marcellus one of the "lost hopes" of the Julio-Claudian line. A highly successful general, he had achieved victories both in Germany (where he recovered two of the three legionary standards lost by Quintilius Varus) and in Asia (where he defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene, establishing them as Roman provinces.

His sudden death in Antioch was never fully explained - there was a strong suspicion that he had been murdered on Tiberius's orders, and that the Governor of Syria, Calpurnius Piso, with whom he had quarelled, may have been implicated. Once again, Graves's fiction (in this case, the story of the witch, Martina, employed by Piso and his wife to terrify the superstitious Germanicus), though loosely based on Tacitus's account in The Annals, shines a light on a corner of the past that history has left dark.

Page 240. " But she put to sea in spite of storms "
Benjamin West, Agrippina Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus, Yale University Art Gallery
Public DomainBenjamin West, Agrippina Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus, Yale University Art Gallery

The return of Germanicus's widow, Agrippina Major, to Rome with his ashes (via the port of Brindisium) is described by both Suetonius and Tacitus. Germanicus's death and funeral represented such a traumatic moment in the history of Rome that they became a significant theme in 17th and 18th Century European art.


Nicholas Poussin, The Death of Germanicus, 1628, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Public DomainNicholas Poussin, The Death of Germanicus, 1628, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Page 246. " In the Senate next day Tiberius read a statement "

Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso (43 BC - 20 AD) went on trial for the murder of Germanicus. He died before the trial could be concluded, supposedly by suicide, although there were suspicions that he had been murdered. His wife Plancina was acquitted, probably following an intervention by Livia.

Page 250. " his sexual depravity, the rumours of which everyone had shrunk from taking literally "

The main source here is Suetonius, who tells us in The Twelve Caesars how Tiberius, at his retreat in Capri, paid male and female prostitutes to "engage in filthy threesomes in his presence," and how he had "boys and girls dressed up as Pan and the nymphs" soliciting outside caves and grottoes in the grounds of his villa.

There was also a story that he "trained some boys of tender age, whom he called his little fishes, to slip between his thighs when he was swimming and provoke him playfully with their licking and biting." It is unclear how much of this was made up, but Graves is quite restrained in his use of the source material.