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Tiberius (A.D. 14-37)

Garrett G. Fagan

Pennsylvania State University

A bust of the Emperor Tiberius (c)1998 Justin Paola


The reign of Tiberius (b. 42 B.C., d. A.D. 37, emperor A.D. 14-37) is a particularly important one for the Principate, since it was the first occasion when the powers designed for Augustus alone were exercised by somebody else. [[1]] In contrast to the approachable and tactful Augustus, Tiberius emerges from the sources as an enigmatic and darkly complex figure, intelligent and cunning, but given to bouts of severe depression and dark moods that had a great impact on his political career as well as his personal relationships. His reign abounds in contradictions. Despite his keen intelligence, he allowed himself to come under the influence of unscrupulous men who, as much as any actions of his own, ensured that Tiberius's posthumous reputation would be unfavorable; despite his vast military experience, he oversaw the conquest of no new region for the empire; and despite his administrative abilities he showed such reluctance in running the state as to retire entirely from Rome and live out his last years in isolation on the island of Capri. His reign represents, as it were, the adolescence of the Principate as an institution. Like any adolescence, it proved a difficult time.

Early life (42-12 B.C.)

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on 16 November 42 B.C. to Ti. Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. Both parents were scions of the gens Claudia which had supplied leaders to the Roman Republic for many generations. Through his mother Tiberius also enjoyed genealogical connections to prominent Republican houses such as the Servilii Caepiones, the Aemilii Lepidi, and the Livii Drusi. From his birth, then, Tiberius was destined for public life. But during his boyhood the old Republican system of rule by Senate and magistrates, which had been tottering for decades, was finally toppled and replaced by an autocracy under the able and ambitious Octavian (later named Augustus). It proved fateful for Tiberius when, in 39 B.C., his mother Livia divorced Ti. Claudius Nero and married Octavian, thereby making the infant Tiberius the stepson of the future ruler of the Roman world. Forever afterward, Tiberius was to have his name coupled with this man, and always to his detriment. [[2]]

Tiberius's early life was relatively uneventful, even if the times were not. In 32 B.C, as civil war loomed between Antony and Octavian, Tiberius made his first public appearance at the age of nine and delivered the eulogy at his natural father's funeral. In the years following the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., as Augustus secured his position at the head of the state, Tiberius grew to maturity and took his first real steps in public life. In 29 B.C. he took part in Augustus's triumph for the Actium campaign, riding on the left of Augustus in the triumphal chariot. Two years later he assumed the gown of manhood (toga virilis) and Augustus led him into the forum. Three years after that, at the age of 17, he became a quaestor and was given the privilege of standing for the praetorship and consulship five years in advance of the age prescribed by law. He then began appearing in court as an advocate and was sent by Augustus to the East where, in 20 B.C., he oversaw one of his stepfather's proudest successes. The Parthians, who had captured the eagles of the legions lost in the failed eastern campaigns of M. Crassus (53 B.C.), Decidius Saxa (40 B.C.), and Mark Antony (36 B.C.), formally returned them to the Romans. Tiberius may have received a grant of proconsular power (imperium proconsulare) to carry out this mission, but, if so, the sources do not mention it. After returning from the East, Tiberius was granted praetorian rank and, in 13 B.C., he became consul. Between his praetorship and consulship he was on active duty with his brother, Drusus Claudius Nero, combatting Alpine tribes; he also was governor of Gallia Comata for one year, probably in 19 B.C. His personal life was also blessed at this time by a happy marriage to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus's longstanding friend and right-hand man, M. Vipsanius Agrippa. The marriage probably took place in 20 or 19 B.C. When he was consul, his wife produced a son, Drusus. [[3]]

Determining the significance of all these offices, delegations, and the marriage to Vipsania largely depends on what view is taken of Augustus's efforts for the succession. In one sense, Tiberius's early career was an entirely natural one for a young man so close to the center of power; it would have been more remarkable had he stayed at home. Tiberius's career, however, cannot be so easily divorced from the larger context of the Augustan succession. The issue is a major one and hotly contentious. [[4]]For the present, it is worth noting that Augustus, in his arrangements for the succession, appears to have indulged a Republican instinct for favoring his immediate family and accordingly focused his attentions on the Julii. First, his nephew Marcellus was favored. Following this young man's premature death in 23 B.C., Augustus used his daughter Julia to tie his friend M. Vipsanius Agrippa into his family by marriage. The union, solemnized in 21 B.C., was a fertile one and produced two sons within four years, both of whom Augustus adopted in a single ceremony in 17 B.C. Modern scholarship has puzzled over these labyrinthine arrangements, in which there seems no place for the stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus. The best explanation is that Augustus's succession scheme was a flexible one, comprising a pool of princes from which the emperor could draw in the event of emergencies -- a wise counsel, as matters turned out. On this view, Tiberius's early career was not insignificant, but his position was not as elevated and evidently favored as that of Agrippa, now the heir-apparent, and the boys, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, who seemed marked out to succeed in the third generation. Whatever personal ambitions Tiberius had, or his mother Livia had for him, were to be utterly subordinated to Augustus's wish to see a Julian at the helm of the Principate. As it was, fate was on Tiberius's side.

The Heir to Augustus: The First Attempt and the "Retirement" to Rhodes (12 B.C-A.D. 2)

Agrippa died in 12 B.C. Tiberius, on Augustus's insistence, divorced Vipsania and married Agrippa's widow, Julia. The union was not a happy one and produced no children. Tiberius had been happily married to Vipsania and, following an embarrassing display in public, he was ultimately forbidden by Augustus even to see her. Nevertheless, Tiberius's elevation in his stepfather's succession scheme continued. He received important military commissions in Pannonia and Germany between 12 and 6 B.C. and proved very successful in the field. He was consul for the second time in 7 B.C., and, in 6 B.C., he was granted tribunician power (tribunicia potestas) and an extensive commission in the East [[5]]. In essence, Tiberius had replaced Agrippa as Augustus's successor. He was Julia's husband, the leading general in the state, and he enjoyed a share of the emperor's power. Everything seemed settled, until the darker side of Tiberius's personality intervened.

Without warning, in 6 B.C. Tiberius -- the visible heir to Augustus -- announced his withdrawal from public life and went to live on Rhodes with some personal friends and an astrologer, Thrasyllus. His reasons for doing so have fueled intense speculation in ancient and modern sources. [[6]] Whatever his motivation, the move was not only a snub to Augustus, but it was also highly inconvenient to the latter's succession plans. Gaius and Lucius Caesar were still too young to assume the heavy responsibilities of the Principate, and Augustus now had no immediate successor to assume power and see the boys to maturity, since Tiberius's brother Drusus had died of an illness in 9 B.C. If anything should befall Augustus now, the Principate might be washed away or, if it should continue, his family's position at the head of it was placed in jeopardy. Finally, and not the least concern, there was the danger that an imperial prince removed from Augustus's ambit could afford a focus for conspiracy. [[7]] Whatever had been Augustus's opinion of Tiberius to this point, henceforward he seems to have had little patience with, or affection for him. Something of Augustus's irritation is revealed by his repeated refusal to allow Tiberius to return to Rome after the latter realized the delicacy of his position on Rhodes; and this in spite of pressure brought to bear on Augustus by his influential and persuasive wife, Livia. When Tiberius's powers ran out in 1 B.C. they were not renewed, and his situation became even more precarious. According to the sources, he was expecting a ship bearing the order for his death. When the ship arrived in A.D. 2, however, it brought quite different tidings. [[8]]

The Heir to Augustus: The Second Attempt (A.D. 2-14)

Tragedy worked for the benefit of Tiberius. In A.D. 2 Lucius Caesar died of an illness at Massilia. Augustus, resistant to the idea of allowing Tiberius to return, finally yielded to the requests of Livia and Gaius Caesar on his behalf. Tiberius returned to Rome and lived in the political wilderness until, unexpectedly, Gaius Caesar died of a wound received during a siege in Armenia. [[9]]Augustus, devastated, was left without his adoptive sons and, more importantly, without an heir and successor. His careful planning for the succession had come to nothing. In the crisis, he turned once more to Tiberius. The wayward prince was summoned from private life and adopted as Augustus's son. Also adopted by Augustus was Agrippa Postumus, the third son of Julia and Agrippa. Tiberius, despite having a natural son, was required to adopt his nephew, Germanicus, the son of his brother Drusus and married to M. Antony's daughter, Antonia. Once more, these complicated manoeuvres surrounding the succession have generated scholarly debate, but the best interpretation seems to be that Augustus was re-establishing a slate of candidate princes, with Tiberius at its head and the others as potential substitutes in the event of disaster. Tiberius's forced adoption of Germanicus appears to have been Augustus's attempt to mark out the succession in the third generation of the Principate. For through Germanicus lay the only route for a Julian to the purple: Germanicus's children would have Augustus's blood in their veins. Augustus's continued coldness toward Tiberius is suggested in the melancholic comment in his will about these arrangements, echoed in the Res Gestae: "Since cruel fate has robbed me of my sons, Gaius and Lucius ..." [[10]]

From A.D. 4 to 14 Tiberius was clearly Augustus's successor. When he was adopted, he also received grants of proconsular power and tribunician power; and in A.D. 13 his proconsular power was made co-extensive with that of Augustus. [[11]] In effect, Tiberius was now co-princeps with Augustus so that when the latter finally died on 19 August A.D. 14, Tiberius's position was unassailable and the continuation of the Principate a foregone conclusion. After 55 years living at the behest of his stepfather, Tiberius finally assumed the mantle of sole power.

Accession and Early Reign (A.D. 14 - 23)

The accession of Tiberius proved intensely awkward. After Augustus had been buried and deified, and his will read and honored, the Senate convened on 18 September to inaugurate the new reign and officially "confirm" Tiberius as emperor. Such a transfer of power had never happened before, and nobody, including Tiberius, appears to have known what to do. Tacitus's account is the fullest. Tiberius came to the Senate to have various powers and titles voted to him. Perhaps in an attempt to imitate the tact of Augustus, Tiberius donned the mask of the reluctant public servant -- and botched the performance. Rather than tactful, he came across to the senators as obdurate and obstructive. He declared that he was too old for the responsibilities of the Principate, said he did not want the job, and asked if he could just take one part of the government for himself. The Senate was confused, not knowing how to read his behavior. Finally, one senator asked pointedly, "Sire, for how long will you allow the State to be without a head?" Tiberius relented and accepted the powers voted to him, although he refused the title "Augustus." [[12]]

In fact, that first meeting between the Senate and the new emperor established a blueprint for their later interaction. Throughout his reign, Tiberius was to baffle, befuddle, and frighten the Senators. He seems to have hoped that they would act on his implicit desires rather than on his explicit requests. Again, this behavior may have been an attempt to imitate Augustus's careful and tactful use of auctoritas, but, if so, it backfired and became a pathetic charade. Tiberius's opinion of the revered body as it struggled with his oblique approach to rule was not high: "Men fit to be slaves." [[13]]

There was trouble not only at Rome, however. The legions posted in Pannonia and in Germany, the most powerful concentration of troops in the empire, took the opportunity afforded by Augustus's death to voice their complaints about the terms and conditions of their service. Matters escalated into an all-out mutiny that was only repressed by the direct intervention of Tiberius's sons, Germanicus and Drusus. There was bloodshed at both locations, but in Germanicus's sector, Germany, there was particularly chaotic disorder and frightful scenes of mayhem. [[14]]

Despite his difficult relationship with the Senate and the Rhine mutinies, Tiberius's first years were generally good. He stayed true to Augustus's plans for the succession and clearly favored his adopted son Germanicus over his natural son, Drusus. (Agrippa Postumus, also adopted by Augustus in A.D. 4, had suffered demotion and exile in A.D. 6-7, and upon Augustus's death he was murdered; responsibility for the crime remains obscure.) On Tiberius's request, Germanicus was granted proconsular power and assumed command in the prime military zone of Germany, where he suppressed the mutiny there and led the formerly restless legions on campaigns against Germanic tribes in A.D. 14-16. After being recalled from Germany, Germanicus celebrated a triumph in Rome in A.D. 17. In the same year, he was granted imperium maius over the East and, in A.D. 18, after being consul with Tiberius as his colleague , he was sent East, just as Tiberius himself had been almost four decades earlier. Unfortunately for Tiberius, Germanicus died there in A.D. 19 and, on his deathbed, accused the governor of Syria, Cn. Calpurnius Piso, of murdering him. Piso was a long-time friend of Tiberius and his appointee to the Syrian governorship, so suspicion for Germanicus's death ultimately came to rest at the palace door. When Germanicus's widow, Agrippina (the Elder), returned to Italy carrying her popular husband's ashes, she publicly declared Piso guilty of murder and hinted at the involvement of more hidden agents. Piso was put on trial in the Senate, where he expected some help from his friend, Tiberius. Instead, Tiberius sat statue-like and let the proceedings take their course. In Tacitus's account, Piso realized his peril and threatened to make public certain documents that would embarrass the emperor. The ploy failed and Piso committed suicide; the documents were never made public. Recently, a remarkable inscription has been found in Spain, containing the text of the "Senatorial Decree concerning Cn. Piso, Senior." It largely corroborates Tacitus's account, including Germanicus's death-bed accusation of Piso. But naturally, in this "official" account, there is no mention of Tiberius's alleged involvement in Germanicus' death. [[15]]

With Germanicus dead, Tiberius began elevating his own son Drusus to replace him as the imperial successor. Relations with Germanicus's family were strained, but they were to reach a breaking point when Tiberius allowed a trusted advisor to get too close and gain a tremendous influence over him. That advisor was the Praetorian Prefect, L. Aelius Sejanus, who would derail Tiberius's plans for the succession and drive the emperor farther into isolation, depression, and paranoia.

Sejanus (A.D. 23-31)

Sejanus hailed from Volsinii in Etruria. He and his father shared the Praetorian Prefecture until A.D. 15 when the father, L. Seius Strabo, was promoted to be Prefect of Egypt, the pinnacle of an equestrian career under the Principate. Sejanus, now sole Prefect of the Guard, enjoyed powerful connections to senatorial houses and had been a companion to Gaius Caesar on his mission to the East, 1 B.C. - A.D. 4. Through a combination of energetic efficiency, fawning sycophancy, and outward displays of loyalty, he gained the position of Tiberius's closest friend and advisor. One development that favored Sejanus was the concentration of all nine cohorts of Praetorian Guardsmen into a single camp at Rome. Augustus had billeted these troops discretely in small towns around Rome, but now Tiberius -- undoubtedly with Sejanus's encouragement, perhaps even at his suggestion -- brought them into the city, probably in A.D. 17 or 18. Sejanus, therefore, commanded some 9,000 troops within the city limits. As Sejanus's public profile became more and more pronounced, his statues were erected in public places, and Tiberius openly praised him as "the partner of my labors." But Sejanus had his own ideas. [[16]]

According to Tacitus, Sejanus's first subversive act was the seduction of Tiberius's daughter-in-law, Livilla, at the time married to Drusus, Tiberius's son. Drusus, it seems, resented Sejanus's influence over his father so the Prefect, in conjunction with Livilla, poisoned him in A.D. 23. [[17]] There followed a series of attacks on Agrippina's friends, mostly played out in the courts in the guise of charges of treason (maiestas) but, in Tacitus's account, actually the work of Sejanus. [[18]]

Then, in A.D. 25, Sejanus asked Tiberius for permission to marry Livilla, Drusus's widow. Tiberius refused. This setback for Sejanus was offset the following year, when the ageing emperor withdrew from Rome to live on Capri; he was never to return to the city. Tiberius was most probably encouraged in his decision to retire by Sejanus, who now became the chief vehicle of access to the emperor. With Tiberius absent, Sejanus vented his full fury against Agrippina's family, whose demise he had been plotting for some time. In rapid succession Agrippina and her eldest son, Nero Caesar, and eventually also Drusus Caesar, who had been involved in his brother's downfall, were arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. By A.D. 31 Sejanus had reached the pinnacle of his power and was effectively emperor himself. The sources paint a grimly comic picture of senators lining up to pay respects to a man they considered their social inferior. [[19]]

What exactly Sejanus was aiming at remains a matter of intense debate. [[20]]The Prefect's attacks against Agrippina and his proposal to marry Drusus's widow, Livilla, suggest that he was attempting to follow the precedent of Agrippa, that is, an outsider who became the emperor's successor through a combination of overt loyalty, necessity, and a family alliance forged by marriage. Tiberius, perhaps sensitive to this ambition, rejected Sejanus's initial proposal to marry Livilla in A.D. 25, but later put it about that he had withdrawn his objections so that, in A.D. 30., Sejanus was betrothed to Livilla's daughter (Tiberius' granddaughter). The Prefect's family connection to the Imperial house was now imminent. In A.D. 31 Sejanus held the consulship with the emperor as his colleague, an honor Tiberius reserved only for heirs to the throne. Further, when Sejanus surrendered the consulship early in the year, he was granted a share of the emperor's proconsular power. When he was summoned to a meeting of the Senate on 18 October in that year he probably expected to receive a share of the tribunician power; with that he would, after all, have become Tiberius's Agrippa. [[21]]

But in a shocking and unexpected turn of events, the letter sent by Tiberius from Capri initially praised Sejanus extensively, and then suddenly denounced him as a traitor and demanded his arrest. Chaos ensued. Senators long allied with Sejanus headed for the exits, the others were confused -- was this a test of their loyalty? what did the emperor want them to do? -- but the Praetorian Guard, the very troops formerly under Sejanus's command but recently and secretly transferred to the command of Q. Sutorius Macro, arrested Sejanus, conveyed him to prison, and shortly afterwards executed him summarily. A witch-hunt followed. Sejanus's family was arrested and executed; Livilla perished; followers and friends of Sejanus were denounced and imprisoned, or tried and executed; some committed suicide. All around the city, grim scenes were played out, and as late as A.D. 33 a general massacre of all those still in custody took place. [[22]]

Tiberius himself later claimed that he turned on Sejanus because he had been alerted to Sejanus's plot against Germanicus's family. This explanation has been rejected by most ancient and modern authorities, since Sejanus's demise did nothing to alleviate that family's troubles: Agrippina remained under house arrest, Drusus was still housed in the Palatine's basement, and both died violently within three years of the Prefect's fall. Tiberius is also said to have discovered Sejanus's part in his own son's death in A.D. 23; the source of this information, however, is suspect (see n. [[23]]). Possibly, in the highly charged atmosphere surrounding Sejanus's fall, the news acted as a catalyst, but its truth cannot be verified. Whatever the precise reasons, Sejanus's career and demise, and that of those around him, was an object lesson in the dangers of imperial politics. To achieve power under the emperors, the ambitious needed to get close to the source, but getting too close could lead to catastrophe, for both the aspirant and any who rode his coattails. [[23]]

The Last Years (A.D. 31-37)

The Sejanus affair appears to have greatly depressed Tiberius. A close friend and confidant had betrayed him; whom could he trust anymore? His withdrawal from public life seemed more complete in the last years. Letters kept him in touch with Rome, but it was the machinery of the Augustan administration that kept the empire running smoothly. Tiberius, if we believe our sources, spent much of his time indulging his perversities on Capri. He also became all but paranoid in his dealings with others and spent long hours brooding over the death of his son, Drusus, which had now been revealed to him as the work of his "friend" Sejanus; all who were implicated, he had executed in barbaric fashion. As a result, no measures were taken for the succession, beyond vague indications of favor to his nephew Gaius (Caligula) and his grandson Tiberius Gemellus.[[24]]

Tiberius died quietly in a villa at Misenum on 16 March A.D. 37. He was 78 years old. There are some hints in the sources of the hand of Caligula in the deed, but such innuendo can be expected at the death of an emperor, especially when his successor proved so depraved. The level of unpopularity Tiberius had achieved by the time of his death with both the upper and lower classes is revealed by these facts: the Senate refused to vote him divine honors, and mobs filled the streets yelling "To the Tiber with Tiberius!" (in reference to a method of disposal reserved for the corpses of criminals). [[25]]

Tiberius and the Empire

Three main aspects of Tiberius's impact on the empire deserve special attention: his relative military inertia; his modesty in dealing with offers of divine honors and his fair treatment of provincials; and his use of the Law of Treason (maiestas).

At the meeting of the Senate in September A.D. 14 when Augustus's will was read, another document was produced. It was a sort of posthumous "State of the Empire" address that listed all the resources, army postings, etc. of the state. Part of the document urged future rulers to leave things as they were, and not to expand the empire further. This so-called "Testament of Augustus" appears to be the basic reason why Tiberius did not expand the empire, though the authenticity of the "Testament" itself has divided scholars. Nevertheless, throughout his reign, Tiberius embarked on no major wars of conquest, although he did order punitive campaigns against the Germans across the Rhine in A.D. 14-16; the suppression of a Gallic national revolt under Julius Sacrovir in A.D. 21-22; and the suppression of a persistent guerilla war in North Africa under Tacfarinas in A.D. 17-24. Tiberius seemed adept at choosing provincial governors, with some notable exceptions, and his diplomatic management of potentially disruptive instabilities in Armenia was exemplary -- no Roman intervention in force was required. [[26]]

In general, Tiberius dealt fairly and well with the provincials. The emperor's absence from Rome hardly affected the majority of the empire's population, for whom the emperor was already a shadowy and distant figure. His generally sound choices of provincial governors have already been noted. When the provincials overstepped themselves and offered Tiberius divine honors, or other tributes that struck him as excessive, he declined to accept. Tacitus and Suetonius infer hypocrisy, but there is no reason to suspect that the lugubrious emperor was not acting in good faith in abiding by Augustus's precedent, which was always a paramount concern for him. [[27]]

One area of administration where Tiberius did diverge from Augustan practice was his increasingly frequent invocation of the treason law (maiestas) to attack his enemies. Since his working relationship with the Senators was not a good one, repression was a convenient method in dealing with them. This legislation was one of Sejanus's chief tools, but Tiberius himself used it liberally. Dozens of Senators and equites are on record as having fallen to it. It was a precedent followed in later years by emperors more tyrannical still than Tiberius had ever been. [[28]]


It is all but inevitable that any historical assessment of Tiberius will quickly devolve into a historiographical assessment of Tacitus. So masterful is Tacitus's portrayal of his subject, and so influential has it been ever since, that in all modern treatments of Tiberius, in attempting to get at the man, must address the issue of Tacitus's historiographical methods, his sources, and his rhetoric. The subject is too vast to address here, but some points are salient. Tacitus's methods, especially his use of innuendo and inference to convey notions that are essentially editorial glosses, makes taking his portrayal of Tiberius at face value inadvisable. Further, his belief in the immutable character of people -- that one's character is innate at birth and cannot be changed, although it can be disguised -- prevents him from investigating the possibility that Tiberius evolved and developed over his lifetime and during his reign. Instead, Tacitus's portrayal is one of peeling back layers of dissimulation to reach the "real" Tiberius lurking underneath. [[29]]

Overall, Tiberius's reign can be said to show the boons and banes of rule by one man, especially a man as dark, awkward, and isolated as Tiberius. For the people of the provinces, it was a peaceful and well-ordered time. Governors behaved themselves, and there were no destructive or expensive wars. In the domestic sphere, however, the concentration of power in one person made all the greater the threat of misbehavior by ambitious satellites like Sejanus or foolish friends like Piso. Furthermore, if the emperor wished to remain aloof from the mechanics of power, he could do so. Administrators, who depended on him for their directions, could operate without his immediate supervision, but their dealings with a man like Sejanus could lead to disaster if that man fell from grace. As a result, although he was not a tyrant himself, Tiberius's reign sporadically descended into tyranny of the worst sort. In the right climate of paranoia and suspicion, widespread denunciation led to the deaths of dozens of Senators and equestrians, as well as numerous members of the imperial house. In this sense, the reign of Tiberius decisively ended the Augustan illusion of "the Republic Restored" and shone some light into the future of the Principate, revealing that which was both promising and terrifying.


Listed below are the main works on Tiberius's life and reign, mostly in English; the bibliographies of each entry can be checked for more detailed studies of various aspects of his reign and career. Also included below are works, not directly related to Tiberius, but which address broader issues raised in the biography above.

Balsdon, J. P. V. D. "The Principates of Tiberius and Gaius." Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.2 (1975): 86-94.

Birch, R. A. "The Settlement of 26 June, A.D. 4 and its Aftermath." Classical Quarterly 31 (1981): 443-56.

Bird, H. W. "L. Aelius Sejanus and His Political Influence." Latomus 28 (1969): 61-98.

Boddington, A. "Sejanus: Whose Conspiracy?" American Journal of Philology 84 (1963): 1-16.

Bonamente, G. Germanico: La persona, la personalità, il personaggio. Rome, 1987.

Bowersock, G. "Augustus and the East: The Problem of the Succession," in F. Millar and E. Segal, eds, Caesar Augustus: Seven Aspects (Oxford, 1984), 169-88.

Braund, D. Augustus to Nero: A Sourcebook on Roman History, 31 BC - A.D. 68. London, 1985.

Charlesworth, M. P. "Tiberius and the Death of Augustus." American Journal of Philology 44 (1923): 145-157.

Durry, M. Les cohortes prétoriennes. Paris, 1938.

Eck, W. "Das s.c. de Cn. Pisone patre und seine Publikation in der Baetica." Cahiers du Centre Glotz 4 (1993): 189-208.

________, A. Caballos, and F. Fernandez. Das Senatus Consultum des Cn. Pisone Patre. Munich, 1996.

Ehrenberg, V. and A. H. M. Jones, eds. Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. Oxford, 1970.

Grant, M. Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius. New York, 1950.

________. The Roman Emperors. A Biographical Guide to the Rulers of Rome, 31 BC-A.D. 476 (New York, 1985), 16-24.

Gruen, E. S. "The Imperial Policy of Augustus." In Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his Principate, edited by K. Raaflaub and M. Toher, 395-416. Berkeley, 1990.

Heinrichs, A. D. Sejan und das Schicksal Roms in den Annalen des Tacitus. Marburg, 1976.

Hennig, D. L. Aelius Seianus. Untersuchungen zur Regierung des Tiberius. Munich, 1975.

Levick, B. "Tiberius' Retirement to Rhodes in 6 BC." Latomus 25 (1972): 779-813.

________. "Julians and Claudians." Greece and Rome 22 (1975): 29-38.

________. Tiberius the Politician. London, 1976.

Marsh, F. B. The Reign of Tiberius. Oxford, 1931.

Martin, R. H. "Tacitus and the Death of Augustus." Classical Quarterly 5 (1955): 123-28.

Nicols, J. "Antonia and Sejanus." Historia 24 (1975): 48-58.

Ober, J. "Tiberius and the Political Testament of Augustus." Historia 31 (1982): 306-28.

Pelling, C. "Tacitus and Germanicus." In Tacitus and the Tacitean Tradition, edited by T. J. Luce and A. J. Woodman, 59-85. New Jersey, 1993.

Rapke, I. T. "Tiberius, Piso and Germanicus." Acta Classica 25 (1982): 61-69.

Rogers, R. S. "The Conspiracy of Agrippina." Transactions of the American Philological Association 62 (1931): 141-68.

________. Criminal Trials and Criminal Legislation under Tiberius. Middletown, 1935.

________ Studies in the Reign of Tiberius. Baltimore, 1943.

Ross, D. C. "The Tacitean Germanicus." Yale Classical Studies 23 (1973): 209-27.

Sattler, P. "Julia und Tiberius: Beiträge zur römischen Innenpolitik zwischen den Jahren 12 vor und 2 nach Chr." In Augustus, edited by W. Schmitthenner, 486-530. Darmstadt, 1969.

Seager, R. Tiberius. London, 1972.

Sealey, R. "The Political Attachments of L. Aelius Sejanus." Phoenix 15 (1961): 97-114.

Sherk, R. K. The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian.Cambridge, 1988.

Shotter. D. C. A. "Tacitus, Tiberius and Germanicus." Historia 17 (1968): 194-214.

________. "Julians, Claudians and the Accession of Tiberius." Latomus 30 (1971): 1117-23.

________. "The Fall of Sejanus -- Two Problems." Classical Philology 69 (1974): 42-46.

________. "Cnaeus Calpurnius Piso, Legate of Syria." Historia 23 (1974): 229-45.

________. Tiberius Caesar. London, 1992.

Sinclair, P. "Tacitus' Presentation of Livia Julia, wife of Tiberius' son Drusus." American Journal of Philology 111 (1990): 238-56.

Smith, C. E. Tiberius and the Roman Empire. Oxford, 1942.

Stewart, Z. "Sejanus, Gaetulicus and Seneca." American Journal of Philology 74 (1953): 70-85.

Sumner, G. V. "Germanicus and Drusus Caesar." Latomus 26 (1967): 413-35.

________. "The Family Connections of L. Aelius Sejanus." Phoenix 19 (1965): 134-45.

Syme, R. "Sejanus on the Aventine." Hermes 84 (1956): 257-66.

Tuplin, C. J. "The False Drusus of A.D. 31 and the Fall of Sejanus." Latomus 46 (1987): 781-805.

Wellesley, K. "The Dies Imperii of Tiberius." Journal of Roman Studies 57 (1967): 23-30.


[[1]] The main ancient literary sources for the reign of Tiberius are: Tac. Ann. 1-6; Dio 57-59; Suetonius, Tiberius and Gaius; Josephus BJ 2.204-17 and AJ 18.181-87, 205-25; Velleius Paterculus, esp. 2.94-131. References to Tiberius are also found in Pliny the Elder, Philo, Seneca and others. Coins and inscriptions are, as always, helpful and are readily accessible in Ehrenberg and Jones, Documents Illustrating (in original languages) and in collections such as those of Braund and Sherk (in English translation).

[[2]] Family background and connections, birth, and adoption: Suet. Tib. 1-5.

[[3]] First public appearances: Suet. Tib. 6.4. Toga virilis: Suet. Tib. 7.1. Quaestor and age privileges: Dio 53.28.3-4; Vell. 2.94.1. Commands, esp. in the east: Dio 54.8.1-2, 9.4-5; RG 27.2. First consulship: Dio 54.10.4, 54.25.1; governorship in Gaul: Dio 54.22.1; Suet. Tib. 9.1. Marriage to Vipsania: Suet. Tib. 7.2.

[[4]] See, for instance, the theories of Seager, Tiberius, 18-38 (regency); Levick, "Tiberius's Retirement to Rhodes" and ead., Tiberius the Politician, 19-67 (joint succession); see also, Corbett, "Succession Policy" (Tiberius was always to succeed from 12 B.C. onward).

[[5]] Tiberius/Vipsania: Suet. Tib. 7.2-3. Military commissions and honors: Dio 54.29.1, Suet. Tib. 9.2. Second consulship: Dio 55.8.1. Tribunician power: Dio 55.9.4, Suet. Tib. 9.3.

[[6]] The following reasons are posited in the literary sources, which often present several rumored possibilities in conjunction: he wanted a rest from work (Suet. Tib. 10.2; Vell. 2.99.1-2); he hated his wife Julia and wanted to be away from her (Dio. 55.9.7; Suet. Tib. 10.1, 11.4; Tac. Ann. 1.43); he wished to avoid a possible confrontation with Gaius and Lucius Caesar, with whom he did not get along (Dio 55.9.1-6; Suet. Tib. 10.1, 11.5); he wished to enhance his prestige by being absent from Rome (Suet. Tib. 10.1). According to Suetonius, Tiberius himself initially claimed that he was weary and wanted a rest, but later changed his story and said he did not want a confrontation with Gaius and Lucius (Suet. Tib. 10.2, 11.5). For a more Machiavellian interpretation of the reasons behind the retirement, see Levick, "Tiberius's Retirement to Rhodes" and Tib. the Pol., 31-46; Levick postulates the rise of a "Julian" party within the imperial house that drove Tiberius underground. For a further analysis of this party's activities, see her "Julians and Claudians." The reconstruction is a clever one, although largely without ancient attestation. For a similarly "political" interpretation of the relationship between Tiberius and Julia, see also, Sattler, "Tiberius und Julia." A recent theory, that Tiberius was on an undercover mission to the East at Augustus's behest, is imaginative but unconvincing; see P. Southern, Augustus (London, 1998), 173-76

[[7]] Death of Drusus: Dio 55.1-2. The existence of some worry concerning a possible conspiracy is borne out by the rumors of Tiberius's dealings with military commanders while on Rhodes, thereby exciting his stepfather's suspicions, see Suet. Tib. 12.3; Bowersock, "Augustus and the East." Another prince held on an island, Agrippa Postumus, later proved the point: a slave claiming to be the prince garnered some support until he was captured and executed, see Tac. Ann. 2.39-40; Suet. Tib. 25.

[[8]] Tiberius stuck on Rhodes: Suet. Tib. 11.4 - 13.2. The precariousness of Tiberius's position is reflected in the open destruction of his statues at Nemausus (Suet. Tib. 13.1). If this anecdote is true, it reflects the low level of Tiberius's public image at this time.

[[9]] Deaths of Gaius and Lucius Caesar: Dio 55.10a.6-9; RG 14.1; Suet. Aug. 65.1, Tib. 15.2; Tac. Ann. 1.3. Recall of Tiberius and quiet existence at Rome: Suet. Tib. 13.2, 15.1

[[10]] Citation from the will: Suet. Tib.23; RG 14.1. Adoptions of A.D. 4: Dio 55.13.1a-2; Suet. Tib. 15.2-16.1; Tac. Ann. 1.3; Vell. 2.103.2-3; see also Birch, "The Settlement of 26 June, A.D. 4." Augustus's cold attitude to Tiberius is perhaps also echoed in the rather distant way he refers to him in the RG, "Tiberius Nero, who was at that time my stepson" (RG 27.2, 30.1: ... per Ti. Neronem, qui tum mihi privignus erat ... ). Tiberius, in fact, is never referred to as Augustus's son in the RG, despite its composition some nine years after Tiberius's adoption. In contrast, Gaius and Lucius Caesar are always termed "my sons" by Augustus (RG 14, 20.3, 22, 27.2). In addition, Augustus added the phrase "This I do for reasons of State" to the official formula when adopting Tiberius. The statement is ambiguous, however, and can be read either as a clear statement of Tiberius's qualities and suitability for the Principate or as an indication of Augustus's lack of affection for him (Suet. Tib. 23). It is noteworthy that Suetonius (Tib. 21) provides ample testimony from Augustus's own correspondence of the latter's affection for Tiberius.

[[11]] Suet. Tib. 21.1; Vell. 2.121.1.

[[12]] Tiberius's accession: Tac. Ann. 1.11-14; Suet. Tib. 22-26; Dio 57.2. See also the modern commentaries in Seager, Tiberius, 48-57; Levick, Tib. the Pol., 68-81; Marsh, Reign, 45-69.

[[13]] Quote at Tac. Ann. 3.65 (O homines ad servitutem paratos). A good example of his perturbing correspondence is the opening of the letter of A.D. 32, cited by Suetonius (Tib. 67.1) and Tacitus (Ann. 6.6): "If I know what to write to you, gentlemen, or how I should write it, or, indeed, what I should not write at this time, may the gods ruin me more horribly than I feel myself dying everyday." The quote is also indicative of Tiberius's dark mental state.

[[14]] Pannonia: Tac. Ann. 1.16-30; Dio 57.4. Germany: Tac. Ann. 1.31-48; Dio 57.5-6.1.

[[15]] Demotion, exile, and murder of Agrippa Postumus: Dio 55.32.1-2; Suet. Aug. 65.1 (demotion and exile), Tac. Ann.1.6; Suet. Tib. 22; Dio 57.3.5-6 (murder). Elevation of Germanicus: proconsular power: Tac. Ann. 1.14; campaigns in Germany: Tac. Ann. 1.31-51, 55-71, 2.5-26; consulship and imperium maius: Tac. Ann. 2.43, 53, Ehrenberg and Jones, Documents, p. 41. Tiberius's consulship with Germanicus in A.D. 18 is particularly instructive, since he only held the office three times after his accession, all with the favored heirs at the time (Drusus in A.D. 21 and Sejanus in A.D. 31). Death of Germanicus and aftermath: Tac. Ann. 2.43, 53-3.18 (Dio and Suetonius provide only summary accounts; the former survives only in fragments at this point). Senatorial decree on Piso: W. Eck et al., Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre. (The death of Germanicus and Tiberius's real or imagined place in it has generated intense debate in modern scholarship, see the DIR's Germanicus.)

[[16]] On Sejanus's background, see Bird "Sejanus and His Political Influence"; Levick, Tib. the Pol., 158-60; Sumner, "Family Connections." Sejanus as sole Prefect/moving the guards into Rome: Tac. Ann. 4.2; Dio 57.19.6, see also Durry, Cohortes prétoriennes, 43-63. Partner of my labors: Tac. Ann. 4.2. A good example of Sejanus's overt loyalty to Tiberius is the incident in Spelunca (Sperlonga) in A.D. 26. When a rockfall buried the imperial party as it dined in a natural cave, Sejanus covered Tiberius's body with his own and remained in that position until the rescuers reached them, see Tac. Ann. 4.59 (Suet. Tib. 39 makes no mention of Sejanus's role in the incident). Was this a genuine act of loyalty, or an ostentatious display designed to impress the Emperor?

[[17]] Tac. Ann. 4.3-8; Suet. Tib. 39; Dio 57.22.1. It remains suspicious that no inkling of foul play in Drusus's death was entertained until eight years later, when Sejanus's ex-wife, Apicata, "revealed" the matter in her suicide note, see below note [23]. Quite possibly, Drusus died of natural causes and Sejanus's involvement is a myth.

[[18]] Sejanus's attacks on Agrippina's family friends: see C. Silius and Sosia Galla in A.D. 24 (Tac. Ann. 4.18-20 ), Claudia Pulchra in A.D. 26 (Tac. Ann. 4.52), and T. Sabinus in A.D. 28 (Tac. Ann. 4.68-70; Dio 58.1.1b-3). There is some doubt, however, as to how many of the cases Tacitus ascribes to him were actually the work of Sejanus, see Levick, Tib. the Pol., 163-64. The cases just listed, however, seem securely Sejanian.

[[19]] Marriage proposal: Tac. Ann. 4.39-40, see also Seager, Tiberius, 195-96; Levick, Tib. the Pol. 164-65. Tiberius's withdrawal to Capri: Tac. Ann. 4.41, 57; Suet. Tib. 39-41; Dio 58.1.1. Downfall of Nero Caesar and Agrippina in A.D. 29: Tac. Ann. 4.59-5.4 Suet. Tib. 53-54; ; of Drusus Caesar in A.D. 30: Tac. Ann. 6.23; Suet. Tib. 53.2, Gaius 7; Dio 58.3.8. Sejanus as de facto emperor: Dio 58.5.1. Senators courting Sejanus: Dio 58.2.7-8.

[[20]] The ancient sources are vague on Sejanus's goals: Tacitus (Ann. 4.1, 3) merely states that he wanted regnum; Dio (57.22.4b) says he aimed at power; Suetonius (Tib. 65.1) claims the prefect was a revolutionary; and Josephus (AJ 18.181) comments that Sejanus led a conspiracy, but omits mention of its purpose. Modern opinion is divided. Marsh (Reign, 166) and Seager (Tiberius, 180-81) see Sejanus as aiming at regency over Caligula and Gemellus; Smith (Tiberius and Empire, 152-53) sees Sejanus as a naive innocent who rose too high for his own boots; Rogers ("Conspiracy') argues that Agrippina was plotting against Tiberius and Sejanus was merely defending him. The notion that Sejanus was attempting to topple Tiberius (Suet. Tib. 48.2, 65.1) has been rightly questioned by modern scholars (e.g., Marsh, Reign, 204-10). Sejanus was an underling whose career was tied to Tiberius. He never reached a point where he was equal, never mind superior to the emperor, and so he could not have replaced him successfully. The best explanation for Sejanus's goals is that put forward by Levick (Tib. the Pol., 170-71), since taken up by Shotter (Tiberius Caesar, 42-44), that Sejanus aimed at being to Tiberius what Agrippa had been to Augustus: the trusted servant who would succeed to the throne. This explains Sejanus's attacks on Tiberius's successors (Drurus and the family of Germanicus) and is echoed in two comments in the sources: in Tacitus (Ann. 4.3) when he comments that a house full of Caesars was an obstacle to Sejanus's plans, and in Dio (57.22.4b) when he expressly says that Sejanus wanted to succeed Tiberius.

[[21]] Betrothal to Livilla: Dio 58.3.9; Suet. Tib. 65.1; Tac. Ann. 5.6, 6.8. Consulship: Suet. Tib. 65.1, Ehrenberg and Jones, Documents, p. 32 and nos. 50a, 358a. Imperium pronconsulare: Dio 58.7.4. The comments about Sejanus in Velleius Paterculus, whose work was published in A.D. 30 or early in 31, show the extent of Sejanus's power: Velleius praises Sejanus at length, calling him the "helper" of Tiberius (Vell. 2.127-28; see also Tac. Ann. 4.7). Dio (58.4.3-4) reports also that Sejanus was consul designate for A.D. 31 and that sacrifices were offered to his image along with Tiberius's.

[[22]] Fall of Sejanus: Dio (58.5.5 - 11.5) provides the only narrative account, but see also Suet. Tib. 65. Witch-hunt: Tac. Ann. 5.8, 11. 6.14, 19, 47; Suet. Tib. 61; Stewart, "Sejanus, Gaetulicus, and Seneca."

[[23]] Tiberius's claim for ruining Sejanus: Suet. Tib. 61. Letter from Apicata, Sejanus's ex-wife: Tac. Ann. 4.10-11; Dio 58.11.6. For modern discussions of the problem of the Prefect's fall, see Levick, Tib. the Pol., 173-74; Marsh, Reign 192-99; Nicols, "Antonia and Sejanus"; Shotter, "Fall of Sejanus"; Smith, Tiberius, 145-52; Seager, Tiberius, 214-23.

[[24]] Perversities and paranoia: Suet. Tib. 43-44 (perversities) 63-64, 66-67 (paranoia). Brooding over Drusus: Suet. Tib. 62.1-2, Tac. Ann. 6.1, Dio 58.11.6-7. Ignoring the succession: see the DIR's Gaius (Caligula).

[[25]] Death of Tiberius: Tac. Ann. 6.50; Dio 58.28.1-4; Suet. Tib. 73, Gaius 12.2-3; Jos. AJ 18.225. Posthumous insults: Suet. Tib. 75.

[[26]] "Testament of Augustus": Tac. Ann. 1.11, see also Gruen, "Imperial Policy of Augustus"; Ober, "Tiberius and the Political Testament." Lack of conquest: Suet. Tib. 37.4. German campaigns of A.D. 16-17: Tac. Ann. 1.49-52, 55-71, 2.5-26; Sacrovir: Tac. Ann. 3.40-47; Tacfarinas: Tac. Ann. 2.52, 3.20-21, 72-74, 4.23-26. Most of Tiberius's choices for governorships were successes; a notable exception is Piso in Syria when Germanicus was there.

[[27]] Respect for Augustus's precedents: Tac. Ann. 1.77, 4.37; Dio 57.7-10. Modesty: Suet. Tib. 26-27, see also Tac. Ann. 6.51. Note especially the incident in A.D. 26 when Tiberius rejected petitions from several Asian communities to erect temples to him, Tac. Ann. 4.55-56. For a summary of Tiberius's dealings with excessive honors and the provincials, see the relevant chapters in Levick, Tib. the Pol., Marsh, Reign, and Seager, Tiberius. Note also, Shotter, Tiberius Caesar, 51-58.

[[28]] Among the most shocking invocations of the law was the case in A.D. 24 of the Vibii Sereni, father and son, who found themselves in the roles of defendant and prosecutor respectively (Tac. Ann. 4,28-30). Tacitus (Ann. 4.32-33), in fact, apologizes for the monotony of his narrative in documenting these "show trials" in such detail. See Levick, Tib. the Pol., 180-200; Marsh, Reign, 289-95; Chilton, "Roman Law of Treason"; Rogers, Criminal Trials.

[[29]] This is particularly evident in Tacitus's scathing "obituary" of Tiberius at Ann. 6.51.

Copyright © 1997, Garrett G. Fagan. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Garrett G. Fagan

Updated: 22 December 2001.

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