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Tiberius - Roman Emperor

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Tiberius

Tiberius

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Name: Tiberius Claudius Nero
Dates: 42 B.C. - 37 A.D.
Parents: Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia
Occupation: Roman emperor

Detailed Tiberius Timeline

Tiberius was the son of Livia, wife of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Reluctantly, Augustus adopted Tiberius and groomed him for the role of emperor, but if there had been an alternative, Tiberius would have been overlooked.

Tiberius was a very capable military leader and a sensible civic leader who tried to restrain the budget, but he was dour and unpopular. He is known for treason trials, sexual perversion, and shirking his responsibility by going into seclusion.

Basic Facts About Tiberius:

Roman historians Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and Tacitus all wrote about Tiberius. Suetonius says he was probably born on November 16 in 42 B.C. on the Palatine Hill or at Fundi. His mother was Livia who later married Augustus, and his father (of the same name, Tiberius Claudius Nero) was a quaestor who died when Tiberius was 9. Augustus adopted Tiberius (A.D. 4) and married him to his daughter Julia.

When Augustus died in A.D. 14, Tiberius succeeded him as emperor.

Tiberius died on March 16, 37, of an illness possibly attributable to a slow poisoning by Caligula. He was 77 and had ruled for almost 23 years.

Tiberius' Early Career:

In his early civic career, Tiberius defended and prosecuted at court and before the Senate. He secured a charge of high treason against Fannius Caepio and Varro Murena. He reorganized the grain supply, investigated irregularities in slave barracks where free people were detained improperly and where draft dodgers pretended to be slaves.

He became quaestor, praetor and consul at a young age and then consul again. He received the power of a tribune for 5 years. Then he retired to Rhodes against the wishes of Augustus.

Early Military Accomplishments:

His first military campaign was against the Cantabrians. He then went to Armenia where he restored Tigranes to the throne. He collected missing Roman standards from the Parthian court. Tiberius was sent to govern the "long-haired" Gauls and fought in the Alps, Pannonia, and Germany. He subjugated various Germanic peoples and took 40,000 prisoner. He then settled them in homes in Gaul. Tiberius received an ovation and a triumph in 9 and 7 B.C.

Julia and Exile:

Tiberius had been forcibly divorced from his first wife in order to marry Augustus' immoral daughter Julia. Tiberius lost interest in her and retired to Rhodes, during which time Julia was banished by her father for her immoral behavior. Tiberius tried to come back when his tribunician power ended, but his petition was denied. He was reffered to as The Exile. In time, Tiberius' mother Livia arranged for his recall, but Tiberius had to renounce all political aspirations. However, when all other likely successors died, Augustus adopted Tiberius, who in turn had to adopt his nephew Germanicus.

Later Military Accomplishments:

Tiberius was given tribunician power for 3 years. First he was to pacify Germany. He was then sent to suppress the Illyrian revolt. At then end of 3 years, he achieved complete submission of the Illyrians. For this he was voted a triumph. He postponed the triumph out of deference to Varus' disaster in Germany, but then he put on a triumphal banquet with 1000 tables. With the sale of his spoils, he restored the temples of Concord and Castor and Pollux.

The consuls then awarded Tiberius joint control of the provinces with Augustus.

Succession:

When Augustus died, Tiberius, as tribune, convened the Senate. A freedman read Augustus' will naming Tiberius as successor. Tiberius called on the praetorians to provide him a body guard, but didn't take the title of emperor immediately nor even his inherited title of Augustus. At first, Tiberius despised sycophants, intervened in matters of state to check abuses and excesses, abolished Egyptian and Jewish cults in Rome, and banished astrologers. He consolidated the Praetorians for efficiency, crushed city riots, and abolished the right of sanctuary.

Germanicus and Piso:

After Tiberius became emperor, Germanicus led expeditions into Germania. Among other accomplishments of Germanicus, he buried the remains of the men under Varus who had been defeated by the Germans at Teutoberg Wald. Germanicus died in Syria in 19. Suspicion of poisoning Germanicus fell on the former Syrian governor, Gn. Calpurnius Piso. Piso committed suicide. It was suspected that Piso had acted upon Tiberius' orders.

After Drusus and Germanicus died, Tiberius retired to the island of Capri (in the Bay of Naples).

Abuses and Scandal:

Tiberius started out well, but greed and paranoia stepped in. A reign of terror started as informers accused Roman men and women of many, even silly crimes that led to capital punishment and confiscation of the criminal's estate. In Capri, Tiberius stopped fulfilling his civic obligations, but instead engaged in licentious acts. Most familiar is his training of little boys to act as nipping minnows. Tiberius' mean and vengeful streak caught his erstwhile confidant, Sejanus, accused of conspiracy against the emperor. Until Sejanus was destroyed, people had blamed him for the excesses of the emperor.

Tiberius and Caligula:

During Tiberius' exile in Capri, Gaius (Caligula) came to live with the old man, his adopted grandfather. Tiberius included Caligula as joint heir in his will. The other heir was Tiberius' brother Drusus' child. According to Tacitus, when it looked as though Tiberius was on his last legs, Caligula tried to take sole control, but then Tiberius recovered. The head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro, stepped in and had the old emperor smothered.

Evaluation:

At the end of Book VII of the Annals, Tacitus evaluates the life of Tiberius. He says:
On his return from Rhodes he ruled the emperor's now heirless house for twelve years, and the Roman world, with absolute sway, for about twenty-three. His character too had its distinct periods. It was a bright time in his life and reputation, while under Augustus he was a private citizen or held high offices; a time of reserve and crafty assumption of virtue, as long as Germanicus and Drusus were alive. Again, while his mother lived, he was a compound of good and evil; he was infamous for his cruelty, though he veiled his debaucheries, while he loved or feared Sejanus. Finally, he plunged into every wickedness and disgrace, when fear and shame being cast off, he simply indulged his own inclinations.

Ancient Sources on Tiberius

  • Tacitus Annals
  • Suetonius Life of Tiberius
  • Dio Cassius Roman History
  • Velleius Paterculus
  • Juvenal Satire X

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