THE HOROSCOPE OF TiBERiUS
Younger of the precise moment when her son Britannicus should leave the house if he was to be a future Roman emperor. She detained the boy until the given time, when he went out and was proclaimed Emperor Nero (37-68ce). Years before, Balbillus had told Agrippina that this would happen
- her son would become an emperor just as she had wished - but that also he would murder his mother. Both the predictions proved true.
For his role in Nero's glory, Balbillus was rewarded by being appointed the Prefect of Egypt. Unlike many others, he survived the fearful carnage during the Emperor's reign. Another astrologer who drew up Nero's chart at the time of his birth is said to have taken one look at it before fainting with horror.
a death foretold
Succeeding Roman emperors were not so greatly preoccupied with astrology, although Vespasian (9-79ce) not only consulted Balbillus but also allowed games to be held at Ephesus in his honour - the Great Balbillean Games were held until well into the 3rd century. Hadrian and Septimus Severus were adherents; the latter covered the ceilings of his palace with astrological paintings
- including one of his own horoscope.
Belief in astrology was bolstered by the apparent ease with which astrologers could foretell events in the lives of the emperors. What the public did not know was that many of the emperors went out of their way to deliberately fulfil the predictions, in order to show how favoured they were by the heavens.
During successive reigns, life for astrologers alternated between the placid and the exhilarating. Exciting times were far more common, as most emperors were continually apprehensive about plots against them. Anyone who possessed a copy of an emperor's chart was naturally suspected of advising one or more plotters.
When exiled to Rhodes, Tiberius is said to have consulted many astrologers about his future, killing them the moment they had interpreted his horoscope. When the astrologer Thrasyllus examined his charts and suggested that Tiberius had a brilliantly successful life ahead of him, the future Emperor manoeuvered him to the edge of a
perilous cliff and, preparing to throw him over, asked, "And what do you see for yourself?" Thrasyllus replied, "I am in terrible danger." Much impressed, Tiberius spared the astrologer, and when recalled as Emperor relied continually on him for advice, rarely making a move without it.
There was still a great deal of belief in astrological forecasting. Vespasian's son Domitian (51-96ce), for instance, became distinctly nervous when several astrologers predicted his death. As the time announced for it came nearer and nearer, he grew even more edgy. He sent for an astrologer, Ascletarius-Asclation, and asked him if he could foretell his own death. The astrologer replied that he could: he would be torn to pieces by dogs. Domitian had him executed immediately to dispel the prediction. As the astrologer's body was awaiting cremation, however, a sudden rainstorm put out the fire and a pack of feral dogs destroyed the corpse.
The following day, as the time of his forecast death drew closer, Domitian grew increasingly nervous. Finally, to placate him, his courtiers assured him that the fatal hour was past. Much relieved, he decided to take a bath. As he was doing so, an assassin broke in and stabbed him to death.
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