Fact. Fiction. The following may be apocryphal, may be accurate. When it comes to the Romans, we have to trust the ancient writers, or ignore them. My source is Gaius Suetonius, a Roman knight and historian who lived in the first and second century.
1. Augustus. Aged 75. Last words to his friends from his sick-bed: “Since well I’ve played my part, all clap your hands, and from the stage dismiss me with applause.” And to his wife, Livia: “Live mindful of our wedlock, Livia, and farewell.” Finally, at the very moment preceding death, he shouted in terror that forty men were carrying him off, then breathed his last (Suetonius, “Life of Augustus,” 99).
2. Tiberius. 78, violently ill, called for attendants to no response, got up, fell over, and died near the couch. No last words, but the people’s eulogy was: “Tiberius to the Tiber!” in hopes of his body being tossed, as was custom to do to criminals, into the river Tiber (Suetonius, “Life of Tiberius,” 73-75).
3. Caligula. Assassinated at 29 in a manner similar to Julius Caesar: “I am still alive.” His enemies responded: “Strike again!” The historian takes note that their sword thrusts included his genitals (Suetonius, “Life of Caligula,” 58).
4. Claudius. 63. Poisoned by wife or eunuch, likely by mushrooms (a favorite dish). After swallowing the poison he became speechless, which was probably for the best, as he was known for his stutter (Suetonius, “Life of Claudius,” 44). According to Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis (good satire, go read it), after shitting himself, he whimpered: “Oh dear, oh dear, I think I have made a mess of myself” (3).
5. Nero. 32. In the face of rebellion, abandoned by allies and his guard, just delivered a false report that he’d been declared public enemy by the Senate, and hearing the sound of horse-steps, Nero wept and said again and again: “What an artist the world is losing!” Finally he drove a dagger into his throat, after shouting, “Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!” As centurions rushed in, Nero gasped, “Too late!” and expired (Suetonius, “Life of Nero,” 49).
C. Suetonius Transquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Loeb Classical Library (1913). University of Chicago Site, 19 Feb. 2017.
Seneca, Apocolocyntosis. W. H. D. Rouse, trans. Perseus, 19 Feb. 2017.