At the beginning of Chapter 26, Sejanus attempts to convince Tiberius to let him marry Livilla. Even though he is already connected to the imperial family through Claudius’ marriage to Aelia, Sejanus hopes for an even closer connection. Tiberius is offended by Sejanus’ request and refuses. However, Sejanus is still appointed City Warden while Tiberius is living in Capri, and Sejanus continues to further Tiberius’ paranoia about Germanicus’ family.
Claudius is summoned to Livia’s deathbed, where he again promises to fulfill his oath to make her a goddess when he becomes emperor. Livia is comforted by his faithfulness and apologizes to him for calling him a fool. After Livia’s death, Claudius is surprised to discover how much he misses her. He realizes that Livia’s presence had had a far greater influence on Tiberius than anyone had realized; with her death, Tiberius finally reveals the extent of his malignity and personal depravity. Within a few days of Livia’s death, Tiberius takes the opportunity to strike at Nero and Agrippina and, after accusing them of mischief and sexual licentiousness, banishes them both to small islands in the Mediterranean. Tiberius then accuses Drusus, Germanicus’ younger son, and Gallus of plotting against him and imprisons them both.
Antonia discovers the truth of Livilla’s involvement with Sejanus and their plot to overthrow Tiberius and sends evidence of the treachery directly to Tiberius. Armed with this new information about his closest confidante, Tiberius declares Caligula as his heir but continues to honor Sejanus with high political positions. Sejanus is pleased to be appointed Consul, but Claudius recognizes that the five previous Consuls have all been murdered for political reasons.
Tiberius then begins to send confusing letters to the Senate, sometimes praising Sejanus and sometimes reproaching him. Sejanus assumes that Tiberius is becoming senile and is unsure of when he and Livilla should attempt to overthrow him. Tiberius sends Macro to the senate to read a final letter about Sejanus. Sejanus is told that the letter explains Tiberius’ intention to appoint him as High Protector of the People, an appointment which means that he will become Tiberius’ heir. When Macro reads the letter in front of the Senate, Sejanus realizes that he has been deceived: instead of declaring him to be his heir, Tiberius orders Sejanus’ execution.
Sejanus’ death is followed by the deaths and imprisonment of his friends and family. Claudius takes this opportunity to divorce Aelia, and takes their daughter away from her and gives her to Antonia. At this point, it also is revealed that Castor did not die by natural means; he was poisoned by Livilla. At Antonia’s request, Tiberius allows Antonia to determine Livilla’s punishment, and Antonia locks Livilla in her room until she starves to death. Tiberius then takes it upon himself to execute any person who professes to be in mourning for Sejanus or any member of his family.
For the next five years of his reign, Tiberius continues in the same vein of paranoia and random execution. Nero, Agrippina, Drusus, and Gallus all die during their imprisonment. Caligula becomes Tiberius’ closest friend and spends most of his time in Capri, informing Tiberius about the latest sexual vices and depravities. Tiberius also assigns Caligula to oversee Macro and make sure that he does not attempt to seize power like Sejanus.
At seventy-eight years old, Tiberius becomes increasingly feeble but unwilling to admit that he may be in poor health. Tiberius falls into a comatose state after an all-night banquet, and all of Rome assumes that he is about to die. Caligula and Macro quickly send messages to different regiments to inform them that Tiberius was dying and had appointed Caligula his successor. After Tiberius appears to sink deeper into his coma, Caligula takes the signet ring off of his finger and begins presenting himself as the emperor. When Tiberius awakes shortly after and demands the return of his ring, Caligula is terrified. Before any one can confirm that he is still alive, Caligula orders Macro to go into Tiberius’ bedroom and smother him.
After Livia’s death, Tiberius finally rids himself of the remaining members of Germanicus’ family that might pose a threat to him. Claudius finally realizes the extent to which Livia controlled Tiberius and maintained peace in the empire. Despite her malevolent actions, Livia still seems to have had Rome’s best interests in mind in the decisions that she made. Claudius now understands that the government in Rome can only get worse.
Significantly, this epiphany somewhat shatters Claudius’ idealized view of the republic as Rome’s future government. Although he was not aware of it at the time, Livia’s actions in both Augustus and Tiberius’ reign ensured the prosperity of the majority of the Roman people, even if a few individuals had to be sacrificed for the cause. A world without Livia’s form of empire is extremely unstable and dangerous, as Tiberius’ behavior demonstrates. Yet, Claudius realizes that a world without any empire at all is far more dangerous to everyone concerned.
The moment of Livia’s death also provides Claudius with more personal satisfaction. He finally receives the approval that he has been searching for his entire life by Livia’s admission that he is not such a fool after all. Claudius does not survive in the empire in the same way that Livia does, preferring to play the fool and take a passive role in the events around him. However, Livia still recognizes that Claudius has outlived all of the more promising members of his family through his so-called “foolish” behavior. Moreover, Claudius is one of the few Claudians who has remained honorable; Caligula rescinds his promise to make Livia a goddess when he sees her dying, but Claudius promises to uphold his oath. On her deathbed, Livia is finally able to see Claudius clearly and give him her respect.
Although the readers have only seen hints of Caligula’s madness and cruelty at this point in the novel, Tiberius’ decision to appoint Caligula as his heir ensures that the next reign of power will be even more disastrous. Interestingly, Claudius reveals that Tiberius did not believe that Caligula would actually become emperor because of one of Thrasyllus’ prophecies. In this case, Tiberius’ reliance on Fate and prophecy ultimately results in his own death. Had he viewed Caligula with the same paranoia and suspicion that he viewed Germanicus’ family and even Sejanus, Tiberius would have avoided a situation in which Caligula could murder him.
The violence of Tiberius’ death clearly foreshadows the violence to come. Instead of dying by slow poison or a dagger wound, Tiberius has a slow and painful death by suffocation. Caligula’s decision to steal the signet ring before Tiberius is actually dead demonstrates his impatience and greed. Even though he was assured of eventually taking Tiberius’ place, Caligula is unwilling to wait any longer. The theft of the ring also echoes Caligula’s theft of Germanicus’ Hecate. In both cases, Caligula steals a tangible symbol of power for his own purposes, and leaves Germanicus and Tiberius to die in search of their individual talismans.