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Roman Emperor - Tiberius

Updated on January 18, 2012

42 BC - 37 AD

Tiberius, Roman emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Born Rome, Italy, 16 November 42 BC.

The son of Tiberius Claudius Drusus and Livia Drusilla who in 39 BC divorced her husband to become the wife of Augustus. Tiberius and his younger brother Drusus were raised in the imperial court and their youth and early manhood were troubled by inter-family fighting over the heir and successor to Augustus. As the stepson and legally adopted son of the Emperor Augustus, Tiberius succeeded him on the imperial throne in AD 14 to become the second emperor of Rome.

During his youth Tiberius was carefully educated and became well acquainted with both Greek and Latin literature.

At age 19, Tiberius with his brother, Nero Claudius Drusus, had been entrusted with the defence of the northern frontiers, and during the years 12 - 9 BC he fought successful campaigns against the Dalmatians and Pannonians as he proved himself an able military commander.

At the age of 22 he was sent by Augustus on a diplomatic mission to Armenia, and in 13 BC he was consul with P. Quinctilius Varus.

In 9 BC his brother Drusus died, and after that Livia hoped that Tiberius might succeed Augustus but Tiberius was more interested in military matters at which he excelled. In his first command at the age of 22, he recovered some lost Roman standards. He achieved a number of other victories and enjoyed great popularity among his troops.

After the death of Drusus, Tiberius took command in Germany, and remained there until 6 BC, when he was granted the tribunicia potestas for five years and retired with the emperor's permission to Rhodes. This sudden withdrawal from public affairs at the age of 36 was dictated by domestic unhappiness. Tiberius was married to Vipsania Agrippina, to whom he was deeply attached and who had borne him a son, Drusus.

Events, however, conspired to involve Tiberius once again in dynastic struggles. In 12 BC Augustus compelled Tiberius to divorce Vipsania and marry the emperor's own daughter Julia,recent widow of Augustus' friend Agrippa. Julia was a notorious adulteress and she and Tiberius hated each other. Eventually her adulteries drove Tiberius to self-imposed exile on the island of Rhodes in 6 BC. For almost 10 years he remained in Rhodes during which time Julia's affairs were discovered by Augustus, who banished her. Of the three sons by her previous husband, one was banished, one died and the third, Gaius, was killed the year Tiberius returned to Rome.

Augustus was forced through lack of a better choice to adopt Tiberius as his son and heir. This left Tiberius to succeed Augustus and the Roman senate proclaimed Tiberius emperor when Augustus died in AD 14.

Reign of Tiberius

Tiberius was a suspicious character, and he began his reign by putting to death Postumus Agrippa, the surviving grandson of Augustus. Then he proceeded to make his rule absolute. He governed with justice and moderation from AD 14 to 23, and in 26 AD left Rome, never to return. He went first to Campania on the pretext of dedicating temples, but in the next year he moved to the island of Capri off the Campanian coast.

Tiberius fell under the influence of Sejanus who encouraged the emperor's fear of assassination and was instrumental in Tiberius' departure from Rome to Capreae (Capri).

He left the government of the empire to Sejanus, captain of the Praetorian Guard. Sejanus was ruthless and cruel and began the spate of treason trials which have tainted the memory of Tiberius's reign ever since. Sejanus used the trials to eliminate potential enemies and who was plotting to obtain for himself the imperial throne, but eventually Tiberius, who had become suspicious of his behavior, ordered Sejanus's death at the hands of Macro, the new commander of the guard.

Tiberius is remembered as a tyrant but was in fact responsible for many victories and for administrative reforms that ensured the successful continuity of the empire.

His reign saw an improvement in financial matters and in the civil service, particularly in the administration of the provinces. But his parsimony in some fields of expenditure - notably the public games - made Tiberius unpopular in Rome, and from AD 26 he ruled the empire from his retreat on the island of Capri.

Legacy of Tiberius

Tiberius tried diligently to continue Augustus' policies, and throughout his reign, administration in the empire's provinces was wise and efficient. Tiberius maintained the borders of the empire but did not extend them through conquest. In Rome itself, Tiberius was unpopular. He had a morose personality and seemed stern and remote to the Romans. In addition, his stringent economies robbed them of their beloved public entertainments.

When Tiberius' nephew and heir, Germanicus, died in 19 AD, it was falsely rumored that Tiberius had him poisoned. Fearing assassination, Tiberius placed his trust in Sejanus, chief of the Praetorian Guard. However, Sejanus secretly plotted to succeed Tiberius and exercised excessive authority in Rome after Tiberius retired to Capri in 26 AD. In 31 AD, Sejanus was put to death by the emperor, but by that time he had done away with most of Tiberius' possible heirs.

On Capri, the aged and sick Tiberius chose his great-nephew Gaius Caesar as his successor. Gaius, grandson of Tiberius's brother Drusus, was nicknamed Caligula (little boot) by the army he grew up with.

In the last six years of his life, his mind was almost certainly unbalanced, and in AD 37 when Tiberius appeared close to death, Caligula was sent for but when the emperor suddenly to revive, Macro, the praetorian prefect, who had allied himself with Caligula, had Tiberius smothered with his own bedding.

Tiberius was pictured as a cruel tyrant by such historians as Tacitus and Suetonius, but this view is now considered unjust. He has been defended by many historians from Merivale onwards.

During the reign of Tiberius, Jesus lived and taught in the Roman province of Judaea.


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