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Emperor of the Roman Empire
Image:Tiberius palermo.jpg
A bust of the Emperor Tiberius
Reign 14 - 37
Full name Tiberius Caesar Augustus
(born Tiberius Claudius Nero)
Born November 16, 42 BC
Died March 16 AD 37
Predecessor Augustus
Successor Caligula
Wife/wives 1) Vipsania Agrippina, 20 BC to 12 BC
2) Julia the Elder, 11 BC to 2 BC
Issue By 1) Julius Caesar Drusus
By 2) 1, died in infancy
Dynasty Julio-Claudian
Father Tiberius Nero
Mother Livia

Tiberius Caesar Augustus, born Tiberius Claudius Nero (November 16, 42 BCMarch 16 AD 37), was the second Roman Emperor, from the death of Augustus in AD 14 until his own death in 37. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced his father and remarried to Augustus in 39 BC. Tiberius would later marry Augustus' daughter Julia the Elder (from an earlier marriage) and even later be adopted by Augustus and by this act he became a Julian. The subsequent emperors after Tiberius would continue this blended dynasty of both families for the next forty years; historians have named it the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Tiberius Claudius Nero is recognized as one of Rome's greatest generals, whose campaigns in Pannonia, Illyricum, Rhaetia and Germania laid the foundations for the northern frontier. But he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, and sombre ruler (tristissimus hominum – ‘the gloomiest of men’, by one account), who never really desired to be Emperor. After the death of Tiberius’ son Drusus in 23, the quality of his rule declined, and ended in a Terror. In 26 Tiberius exiled himself from Rome and left administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous Praetorian Prefects Lucius Aelius Sejanus and Quintus Naevius Macro. Caligula, Tiberius’ adopted grandson, succeeded the Emperor on his demise.


[edit] Early life

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on 16 November 42 BC to Tiberius Nero and Livia Drusilla. In 39 BC, his mother divorced his biological father and remarried Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus shortly thereafter, while still pregnant with Tiberius Nero's son. Shortly thereafter in 38 BC his brother, Nero Claudius Drusus, was born.

Little is recorded of Tiberius's early life. In 32 BC, Tiberius made his first public appearance at the age of nine, delivering the eulogy for his biological father. In 29 BC, both he and his brother Drusus rode in the triumphal chariot along with their adoptive father Octavian in celebration of the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. In 26 BC, Augustus became gravely ill, and his possible death threatened to plunge the Roman world into chaos again. Historians generally agree that it is during this time that the question of Augustus's heir became most acute, and while Augustus had seemed to indicate that Agrippa and Maecenas would carry on his position in the event of his death, the ambiguity of succession became Augustus's chief problem.

In response, a series of potential heirs seem to have been selected, among them Tiberius and his brother, Drusus. In 24 BC, at the age of seventeen, Tiberius entered politics under Augustus's direction, receiving the position of quaestor, and was granted the right to stand election for praetor and consul five years in advance of the age required by law. Similiar provisions were made for Drusus.

Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian Dynasty
   Natural - Julia the Elder
   Adoptive - Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar, Agrippa Postumus, Tiberius
   Natural - Julius Caesar Drusus
   Adoptive - Germanicus
   Natural - Julia Drusilla
   Adoptive - Tiberius Gemellus
   Natural - Claudia Antonia, Claudia Octavia, Britannicus
   Adoptive - Nero
   Natural - Claudia Augusta

Shortly thereafter Tiberius began appearing in court as an advocate, and it is presumably here that his interest in Greek rhetoric began. In 20 BC, Tiberius was sent East under Marcus Agrippa. The Parthians had captured the standards of the legions under the command of Marcus Crassus (53 BC), Decidius Saxa (40 BC), and Mark Antony (36 BC). After several years of negotiation, Tiberius lead a sizable force into Armenia, presumably with the goal of establishing Armenia as a Roman client-state and as a threat on the Roman-Parthian border, and Augustus was able to reach a compromise whereby these standards were returned, and Armenia remained a neutral territory between the two powers.

After returning from the East in 19 BC, Tiberius was married to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus’s close friend and greatest general, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, appointed praetor, and sent with his legions to assist his brother Drusus in campaigns in the west. While Drusus focused his forces in Gallia Narbonensis and along the German frontier, Tiberius combated the tribes in the Alps and within Transalpine Gaul. In 16 BC he discovered the sources of the Danube, and soon afterwards the bend of the middle course. Returning to Rome in 13 BC, Tiberius was appointed as consul, and around this same time his son, Julius Caesar Drusus, was born.

Agrippa's death in 12 BC elevated both Tiberius and Drusus in regards to the succession. Tiberius, on Augustus’s order, divorced Vipsania and married Julia the Elder, Augustus's daughter and Agrippa's widow. This event seems to have been the breaking point for Tiberius; the marriage between he and Julia was never a happy one, and produced only a single child which died in infancy. Reportedly, Tiberius once ran into Vipsania again, and proceeded to follow her home crying and begging forgiveness; soon afterwards, Tiberius met with Augustus, and steps were taken to ensure that the two would never meet again. Tiberius continued to be elevated by Augustus, and after Agrippa's death and his brother Drusus's death in 9 BC, seemed the clear candidate for succession. As such, in 12 BC he received military commissions in Pannonia and Germania; both areas highly volatile and both areas key to Augustan policy. He returned to Rome and was consul for a second time in 7 BC, and in 6 BC was granted tribunician power (tribunicia potestas) and control in the East, all of which mirrored positions that Agrippa had previously held. However, despite these successes and despite his advancement, Tiberius was not happy.

[edit] Retirement to Rhodes

In 6 BC, Tiberius, on the verge of accepting command in the East and becoming the second most powerful man in Rome, suddenly announced his withdrawal from politics and retired to Rhodes. The precise motives for Tiberius's withdrawal are unclear. Historians have speculated a connection with Augustus’s grandchildren Gaius and Lucius, whom Augustus had adopted, and were being elevated along the same political path that both Tiberius and Drusus had been. Tiberius thus was an interim solution; he would hold power only until Lucius and Gaius came of age, and then be swept aside. The promiscuous, and very public, behavior of his unhappily married wife, Julia, may have also played a part; indeed Tacitus calls it Tiberius's intima causa, his innermost reason for departing for Rhodes, and seems to ascribe the entire move to a hatred of Julia and a longing for Vipsania. Tiberius had found himself married to a woman he loathed, who publicly humiliated him with nighttime escapades in the Forum, and forbidden to see the woman he had loved.

Whatever Tiberius's motives, the withdrawal was almost disastrous for Augustus's succession plans. Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar were still in their early teens, and Augustus, now 57 years old, had no immediate successor. There was no longer a guarantee of a peaceful transfer of power after Augustus's death, nor a guarantee that should the position of Princeps survive his family, and therefore his families allies, would hold power over it.

Somewhat apocryphal stories tell of Augustus pleading with Tiberius to stay, even going so far as to stage a serious illness; Tiberius's response was to anchor off the shore of Ostia until word came that Augustus had survived, then sailing straightway for Rhodes. Tiberius reportedly discovered the error of his ways and requested to return to Rome several times; each time Augustus refused the request.

[edit] Heir to Augustus

With Tiberius's departure, succession rested solely on Augustus's two young grandsons, Lucius and Gaius Caesar. The situation became more precarious in 2 AD with the death of Lucius; Augustus, with perhaps some prompting from Livia, allowed Tiberius to return to Rome as a private citizen and nothing more. In 3 AD, Gaius was killed in Armenia and, to paraphrase Tacitus, Augustus had no other choice but to turn to Tiberius.

The death of Gaius in 3 AD initiated a flurry of activity in the household of Augustus. Tiberius was adopted as full son and heir along with the young Postumus Agrippa, the third son of Julia the Elder and Marcus Agrippa. In turn, Tiberius was required to adopt his nephew, Germanicus, the son of his brother Drusus and his niece Antonia Minor. Along with his adoption, Tiberius received tribunician power as well as a share of Augustus's maius imperium, something that no one else had ever shared. In 13 AD, these powers were made equal, rather than second, to Augustus's own powers. Tiberius was thus for all intents and purposes a "co-princeps" with Augustus, and upon the latter's passing in 14 AD, could simply continue to rule without an interregnum or possible upheaval.

[edit] Early reign

Image:Tiberius bust.jpg
The younger Emperor Tiberius

While the reality of Tiberius's position as the new Princeps could not be denied, the ceremonial aspect of the transference of power was something that neither the Senate, nor indeed Tiberius, knew how to handle. Augustus was buried with all due ceremony and, as had been arranged beforehand, deified, his will read, and Tiberius confirmed as his heir. The Senate convened on 18 September, ostensibly to validate Tiberius's position as Princeps and, as it had done with Augustus before, extend the powers of the position to him. Tacitus gives what can only be thought of as a full account of the proceedings. Tiberius already had the administrative and political powers of the Princeps, all he lacked were the titles- Augustus, Pater Patriae, and the Civic Crown (a crown made from laurel and oak, in honor of Augustus having saved the lives of Roman citizens). Tiberius, however, attempted to play the role of Augustus, that is of the reluctant public servant who wants nothing more than to serve the state, and ended up throwing the enire affair into confusion. Rather than humble, he came across as derisive; rather than seeming to want to serve to state, he seemed obstructive. He cited his age as a reason why he could not act as Princeps, stated he did not wish the position, and then proceeeded to ask for only a section of the state. The Senate, thoroughly confused, asked which part of the state he would like. Finally, one senator cried, "Sire, for how long will you allow the State to be without a head?" Tiberius finally relented and accepted the powers voted to him, though according to Tacitus and Suetonius he refused to bear the titles Pater Patriae, Imperator, and Augustus, and declined the most solid emblem on the Princeps, the Civic Crown and laurels.

This first meeting seems to have set the tone for Tiberius's entire rule. He seems to have wished for the Senate and the state to simply act without him; his direct orders were vague and seemed to inspire debate more on what he actually meant rather than on actually passing his legislation. In his first few years, Tiberius seems to have wanted the Senate to act on its own, rather than as a servant to his will as it had been under Augustus; according to Tacitus, Tiberius derided the Senate as "men fit to be slaves."

Problems arose quickly for the new Princeps. The legions posted in Pannonia and in Germania had not been paid the bonuses promised them by Augustus, and after a short period of time, when it was clear that a response from Tiberius was not forthcoming, mutinied. Germanicus and Tiberius's son, Drusus, were dispatched with a small force to quell the uprising and bring the legions back in line. Rather than simply quell the mutiny however, Germanicus rallied the mutineers and led them on a short campaign across the Rhine into Germanic territory, stating that whatever booty they could grab would count as their bonus. Germanicus's forces smashed across the Rhine and quickly occupied all of the territory between the Rhine and the Elbe. Additionally, Tacitus records the capture of the Teutoburg forest and the reclaiming of standards lost years before when four Roman legions had been ambushed by a band of Germans. In the face of inaction by Tiberius, Germanicus had managed to deal a significant blow to Rome's enemies, quell an uprising of troops, and once again return lost standards to Rome, actions that placed the young Germanicus in a clear "Augustan" light when compared with befuddled Tiberius.

After being recalled from Germania, Germanicus celebrated a triumph in Rome in 17, the first full triumph that the city had seen since Augustus's own in 29 BC. With his quelling of the Rhine mutinies, his conquest of new territories, and his return of the Roman standards, Germanicus was beginning to look far more "Augustan" than the befuddled Tiberius. As a result, in 18 AD Germanicus was granted control over the eastern part of the empire, just as both Agrippa and Tiberius had received before, and was clearly the successor to Tiberius. Germanicus survived a little over a year before dying, accusing Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the governor of Syria, of murdering him. The Pisones had been longtime supporters of the Claudians, and had allied themselves with the young Octavian after his marriage to Livia, the mother of Tiberius; Germanicus's death and accusations indicted the new Princeps. Piso was placed on trial and, according to Tacitus, threatened to implicate Tiberius. Whether the governor actually could connect the Princeps to the death of Germanicus will never be known; rather than continuing to stand trial when it became evident that the Senate was against him, Piso comitted suicide.

Tiberius seems to have tired of politics at this point. In 22 AD, he shared his tribunician authority with his son Drusus, and began making yearly excursions to Campania that reportedly became longer and longer every year. In 23 AD, Drusus mysteriously died, and Tiberius seems to have made no effort to elevate a replacement. Finally, in 26 AD, Tiberius retired from Rome altogether to the island of Capri

[edit] Tiberius in Capri, Sejanus in Rome

Sejanus had served the imperial family for almost twenty years when he became Praetorian Praefect in 15 AD. As Tiberius became more embittered with the position of Princeps, he began to depend more and more upon the limited secretariat left to him by Augustus, and specifically upon Sejanus and the Praetorians. In 17 or 18 AD, Tiberius had trimmed the ranks of the Praetorian guard responsible for the defense of the city, and had moved it from encampments outside of the city walls into the city itself, giving Sejanus access to somewhere between 6000 and 9000 troops. The death of Drusus elevated Sejanus, at least in Tiberius's eyes, who thereafter refers to him as "my partner". Tiberius had statues of Sejanus erected throughout the city, and Sejanus became more and more visible as Tiberius began to withdraw from Rome altogether. Finally, with Tiberius's withdrawal in 26 AD, Sejanus was left in charge of the entire state mechanism and the city of Rome.

Sejanus's position was not quite that of successor; he had requested marriage in 25 BC to Tiberius's niece, Livilla, though under pressure quickly withdrew the request. While Sejanus's Praetorians controlled the imperial post, and therefore the information that Tiberius received from Rome and the information Rome received from Tiberius, the presence of Livia seems to have checked his overt power for a time. Her death in 29 AD changed all that. Sejanus began a series of purge trials of Senators and wealthy equestrians in the city of Rome, removing those capable of opposing his power as well as extending the imperial (and his own) treasury. Germanicus's widow and son were arrested and executed in 30 AD.

In 31, Sejanus held the consulship with Tiberius in absentia, and began his play for power in earnest. Precisely what happened is difficult to determine, but Sejanus seems to have covertly attempted to court those families who were tied to the Julians, and attempted to ingratiate himself into the Julian family line with an eye towards placing himself, as an adopted Julian, in the position of Princeps, or as a possible regent. Livilla was later implicated in this plot, and was later revealed to have been Sejanus's lover for a number of years. The plot seems to have involved the two of them overthrowing Tiberius, with the support of the Julians, and either assuming the Principate themselves, or serving as regent to the young Tiberius Gemellus or possibly even Gaius Caligula. Those who stood in his way were tried for treason and swiftly dealt with.

However, what is clear from the record is that when Sejanus finally did fall, the purges that ensued under Tiberius were almost all aimed at supporters of the Julians. In 32 AD Sejanus was summoned to a meeting of the Senate, where a letter from Tiberius was read condemning Sejanus and ordering his immediate execution. Sejanus was tried, and he and several of his colleagues were executed within the week.

Rome then erupted into even more extensive trials. Whereas Tiberius had been hesitant to act at the outset of his reign, now, towards the end of his life, he seemed to do so without compunction. The Senatorial ranks were decimated. Hardest hit were those families with political ties to the Julians. Even the imperial magistracy was hit, as any and all who had associated with Sejanus or could in some way be tied to his schemes were summarily tried and executed, their properties seized by the state.

Meanwhile, with Tiberius in Capri, rumors abounded as to what exactly he was doing there. Suetonius records livid tales of sexual perversity and cruelty, of sado-masochism and pederasty, and most of all his paranoia. While perhaps sensationalized, the stories at least paint a picture of how Tiberius was perceived by the Roman people, and what his impact on the Principate was during his 23 years of rule.

[edit] Final years

Image:005 Tiberius.jpg
Denarius coin depicting Tiberius

The affair with Sejanus and the final years of treason trials permanently damaged Tiberius's image and reputation. After Sejanus's fall, Tiberius's withdrawal from Rome was complete; the empire continued to run under the intertia of the bureacracy established by Augustus, rather than through the leadership of the Princeps. He became utterly paranoid, and reportedly spent a great deal of time brooding over the death of his son. Meanwhile, Suetonius records a short invasion by Parthia and incursions by tribes from Dacia and from across the Rhine by several Germanic tribes.

Nothing was done to either secure or indicate how his succession was to take place; the Julians and their supporters felt his full wrath, his own sons and immediate family were dead. There seemed to be a vague nod to Gaius "Caligula", the sole surviving son of Germanicus, as well as his own grandson Tiberius Gemellus, but nothing certain, and there was only a half-hearted attempt at the end of his life to make Gaius an honorary quaestor.

Tiberius died in Misenum on March 16, 37 AD, at the age of 77. Suetonius records that upon the news of his death the crowd rejoiced, only to become suddenly silent upon hearing that he had recovered, and rejoiced again at the news that Caligula had smothered him. In his will, Tiberius had left his powers jointly to Caligula and Tiberius Gemellus; Caligula's first act on becoming Princeps was to void Tiberius's will and have Gemellus executed.

Tiberius’s downfall was not his abuse of power but his refusal to use it. His withdrawn nature, especially in comparison with Augustus's openness, immediately made him a disliked figure. The Senate had been functioning under the directorship of the Principate for almost 50 years; most Senators had gained their position and hoped to advance further by courting Imperial favor. Tiberius's attempt to restore some share of administration to the Senate thus met with failure; the Senate no longer knew how to rule independent of the Princeps. Tiberius seemed disinterested in the role set for him to play, and his rule and his reputation suffered. The administration of the Imperial sector of the government increased during this time, but how much this is due to direct action by Tiberius rather than his freedmen advisors cannot be determined. In the end, Tiberius perhaps is a model of how power can be abused by its lack of use.

[edit] Continuing legacy

It is difficult not to feel conflicted about Tiberius. Were he to have died prior to 23 AD, he might have been hailed as an exemplary ruler. Despite the characterization above, the fact is, Tiberius left the imperial treasury 20 times richer than when he inherited it. Rather than embark on disastrous campaigns of conquest, he chose to strengthen the existing empire by building additional bases, using diplomacy as well as military threats, and generally refraining from getting sucked into petty squabbles between competing frontier tyrants. The result was a stronger, more consolidated empire.

The Gospels record that during Tiberius' reign, Jesus of Nazareth preached and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. In the Bible, Tiberius is mentioned by name only once, in Luke 3:1, stating that John the Baptist entered on his public ministry in the fifteenth year of his reign. Many references to Caesar (or the emperor in some other translations), without further specification, actually refer to Tiberius.

Similarly, the "Tribute Penny" referred to in Matthew 22:19 and Mark 12:15 is popularly thought to be a silver denarius coin of Tiberius.

The town Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was named in Tiberius's honour by Herod Antipas.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. For the etymology of the name, see under List of Roman praenomina.

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Primary sources

[edit] Secondary material

  • V.Ehrenberg & A.H.M.Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, 2nd ed. Oxford 1955
  • New York Times, Capri Grotto Found, Skin-Diver Links Discovery to Emperor Tiberius, August 13, 1956, Page 21.
  • Robin Seager, Tiberius, London (Eyre Methuen) 1972
  • Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford (Clarendon Press) 1986

[edit] Biographical sketches

[edit] Other material

Preceded by:
Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Publius Quinctilius Varus
13 BC
Succeeded by:
Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus Appianus and Quirinius
Preceded by:
Gaius Marcius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius Gallus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso
7 BC
Succeeded by:
D. Laelius Balbus and Gaius Antistius Vetus
Preceded by:
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Julio-Claudian dynast
Preceded by:
Lucius Pomponius Flaccus and Gaius Caelius Rufus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Germanicus
Succeeded by:
Marcus Junius Silanus Torquatus and Lucius Norbanus Balbus
Preceded by:
Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus and Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Julius Caesar Drusus
Succeeded by:
Decimus Haterius Agrippa and Gaius Sulpicius Galba
Preceded by:
Marcus Vinicius and Lucius Cassius Longinus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Sejanus
Succeeded by:
Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus
Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, or de vita Caesarum
Julius Caesar - Augustus - Tiberius - Caligula - Claudius - Nero - Galba - Otho - Vitellius - Vespasian - Titus - Domitian

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