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Roman Emperors Pt. 2

Updated on December 14, 2009


Reigned: Augustus 19, 14 AD - March 16, 37 AD

The disillusioned husband of Octavian’s daughter Julia, Tiberius came to power at 55 years of age and found no happiness in power. (Caesar and Christ, p. 259, Will Durant)He made clear his intention to continue the moral reforms instituted by Augustus but was self-contained and patient in continuing them. He argued in a free country there should be freedom of speech and thought.

Tiberius’ earlier shrewdness in dealing with two or Rome’s enemies, while serving Augustus, may mirror the shrewdness he used to gathered Rome’s power into his palm.  In 6 AD, the provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia revolved, massacred all the Romans in the territory and organized an army of 200,000 men which threatened to invade Italy.  Tiberius quickly sued for peace.  Then with patience, he captured and destroyed crops that could feed the German rebels and used guerrilla warfare to prevent new plantings, while seeing to it that his troops were well fed.  Within three years, the German starving rebels disbanded and Rome re-established its power .(Caesar and Christ, p. 217, Will Durant)

As he aged, Tiberius developed a gloom and became so severe he found himself with very few friends.  At 67, he left Rome to live on the island of Capri, administering his empire through Sejanus (a trusted friend).   But when Tiberius recommended Gaius as his successor, Sejanus decided to kill Tiberius.  Saved by Germanicus’ mother, he had Sejanus arrested and accused him to the Senate, which never trusting Sejanus, had him strangled before nightfall and unleashed a reign of terror on his family and supporters.  (Caesar and Christ, p. 264, Will Durant)

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(Courtesy of

His reputation among some as a monster seems to have arisen during the 10 years or so he spent on Capri. While he had never been handsome, by this time he may have been utterly repulsive, with his body covered by “pus-filled eruptions” that stunk and caused him great pain. “He built dozens of villas ringing Capri, with prisons, underground dungeons, torture chambers and places of execution.” His favorite entertainments were cruel and obscene. He killed ferociously and nearly at random.

In picking Caligula – who may have matched Tiberius’ cruelty, to succeed him, Tiberius observed, “I am nursing a viper in Rome’s bosom.”   Caligula, helping Tiberius administer Rome during the day, but at night tortured slaves and watched blood gladiatorial games.

In the spring of 37, Tiberius took ill and to his bed.  When his physicians said he would die soon, Caligula was sent for and was backed by the Praetorian Guard.  Then Tiberius recovered and asked for something to eat.  Macro, commander of the Praetorian Guard, smothered him.  At new of his death in Rome, cries of “Tiberius to the Tiber!” rang through Rome.

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(Courtesy of


Reigned:  16 March 37 until his assassination on 24 January 41.

Born Gaius Caesar Germanicus, Gaius had been brought up among the soldiers of his father’s northern campaigns and been named Caligula (little boot) affectionately.  Hailed at his ascendancy to power, Caligula announced he would follow the principles of Augustus and cooperate with the Senate.  But Rome’s civil wars ran deep in his blood:  his father’s mother was the daughter of Antony and his mother’s mother was the daughter of Augustus. 

Caligula’s childhood had been an unhappy one and filled with caution and paranoia.  His father died under suspicious circumstances and he saw the relationship between his mother and Tiberius deteriorate until she was banished to a tiny island where she starved herself to death. His two oldest brothers, Nero and Drusus, also died. Nero was also banished to an island while Drusus' body was found locked in a dungeon with stuffing from his mattress in his mouth. His family members, part of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, were always faced with danger and he learned to tread carefully and, according to Tacitus and Suetonius, excelled at realizing danger when others did not.   His only comfort was his sisters and stories of his incest with them may have begun early.  Worsening matters, Tiberius’ Praetorian Prefect and trusted ally, Sejanus, wielded enormous power and treason trials were becoming common. 

Declared Emperor at 25, he began to be troubled with “falling sickness” early on in his reign and at times was unable to walk or collect his thoughts. He was often found wandering his palace at night and crying for the dawn. (Caesar and Christ, p. 265, Will Durant)

He quickly became unstable and his unchallenged power increased the demonstrative range of that instability. He made the Egyptian religion of Isis as one of the official cults of Rome. Following Egyptian custom, he married his sister Drusilla and made him heir to his throne. He found time for four marriages. He spent down the Roman treasuries but left the administration of Rome to the Senate. The people suffered tremendously as Caligula restored the custom of presenting gifts to the Emperor. He never hesitated to accuse rich men of treason and condemned them to death to aid the treasury and forced senators and soldiers to fight as gladiators.

His cruelty became his trademark.  When meat ran short for feeding beasts for the gladiatorial games, he had all “bald-headed” prisoners fed to them.   Insulted by the obscenities that Caligula required him to give as passwords day after day, the Praetorian Guard Tribune Cassius Chaerea killed him, his wife and his young daughter.   Caesar and Christ, p. 268, Will Durant 

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