14 – 37 AD
born 42 BC – died 37 AD, age 78
Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on November 16, 42 BC, the elder son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia. Tiberius was most likely born on the Palatine Hill in Rome where he and his younger brother Nero Claudius Drusus, spent much of their early childhood. However, his early childhood was indeed a difficult one due primarily to his family’s opposition toOctavian during the Civil War. His family was forced to flee Italy as a result of his father’s failed revolt against Octavian in 40 BC. They returned in 39 AD, under the terms of the Treaty of Misenum. It was upon their return to Rome when Octavian fell in love with his mother, Livia. Tiberius’ parents thus divorced, and the rest of his life was entwined in the fortunes of his stepfather – Octavian. Upon the death of his natural father, Tiberius delivered the funeral oration in 33 BC.
Tiberius thus spent much of his formative years living in the house of Octavian (Augustus) where he received the finest Roman education. He was also in a position to grow up among the political elite of the Roman Empire. His closest friend during these early years became his brother Drusus. Where Tiberius himself may have lacked ambition, his mother’s plans and guidance more than made up for his personal lack of attention in these matters.
Although Tiberius’ first marriage was arranged with Vipsania Agrippina, daughter of Marcus Agrippa, Tiberius came to love his wife very deeply. Agrippa was the closest friend of Augustus and it was through his military readership that Augustus owed his political position. Therefore, Tiberius’ marriage was indeed political in nature. Still the son Vipsania bore with Tiberius in 14 BC brought him much joy at first and he respectfully named him after his brother – Nero Claudius Drusus, the Younger.
As time passed slowly, Augustus began to entrust various military commands to Tiberius. In 20 BC, he was sent to the East, where he restored Tigranes to the Armenian throne and received back the standards of Crassus that had been captured at Carrhae in 53 BC.
Augustus was not interested in Tiberius as an heir. After all, his father had been an opponent years before. Augustus’ dream was to establish his own Julio dynasty. Consequently, Augustus wanted an heir from his bloodline – not that of his wife Livia. Augustus himself had only a daughter Julia by a previous marriage. Augustus arranged the marriage of his daughter Julia to his nephew Claudius Marcellus in 25 BC, whom he began to groom as his heir. Unfortunately, Marcellus died two years later. Agrippa and Marcellus had become rivals and Agrippa to some extent felt slighted and departed from Rome. With the death of Marcellus, Augustus married Julia to Agrippa in 21 BC and it was through this union that five children were born among whom Augustus now turned for a potential heir.
Agrippa died in 12 BC and with his death, Tiberius’ life would take a turn for the worse, from his perspective. In 12 BC, Augustus instructed Tiberius to divorce Vipsania and to marry his daughter Julia. Tiberius loved his wife desperately, and his relationship with Julia deteriorated rapidly, contributing to his dark moods.
At the same time, Tiberius’ military career continued to progress and by 12 BC, he advanced to the rank of general of Rome. His new rank allowed Tiberius to prove his military abilities while in Pannonia between 12 – 9 BC. This post was followed almost immediately by his appointment to Germania where he served between 9 – 7 BC.
From 9 BC onwards, Tiberius’ life would take another sudden turn of misfortune that undoubtedly had much to do with his increasing solace. It was in 9 BC when his beloved brother Drusus died from an injury while on campaign in Germania. Tiberius’ world had been seriously changed. His love for his brother was perhaps demonstrated best for all to see when Tiberius walked in front of the body as it was carried from Germania all the way back to Rome.
With the knowledge that Augustus had cared little for him, Tiberius felt used and unappreciated. Augustus was becoming consumed with his personal grooming of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius (sons of Agrippa and Julia) as his obvious heirs. This was the scene at court despite the fact that Augustus gave Tiberius the tribunician power in 6 BC. Tiberius remained devoted to his imperial chores, running the provinces with a firm but surprisingly effective and fair hand, all the while his mother urged him to endure.
Nonetheless, in 6 BC Tiberius found this situation so unbearable that he petitioned for a divorce from Julia. This was denied by Augustus who insisted that the two of them learn to get along. Instead, Tiberius left Rome for voluntary exile or retirement to Rhodes, against his mother’s wishes. Livia did her best to collect evidence against Julia in an attempt to discredit her in hopes of seeing her son Tiberius reinstated. Even after Julia’s scandalous sexual exploits with numerous men in Rome was exposed, which resulted in her father ordering her banishment in 2 BC, Augustus still remained cold and indifferent to Tiberius.
With Tiberius in Rhodes, Augustus spent his time with his grandsons to such an extent that they had become quite spoiled. Gaius was given the consulship in 1 AD and was sent on a mission to Syria. But tragedy struck Augustus’ house first in 2 AD when Lucius died suddenly at Marseilles. In 3 AD Gauis was wounded in a siege and he became quite ill thereafter. He attempted to return to Rome but died along the way at Limyra in Turkey. This double tragedy struck Augustus quite hard leaving him little choice but to turn to Livia’s son Tiberius.
Bronze As of Tiberius as heir
Summoned back to Rome in 4 AD, Tiberius was adopted by Augustus, granted tribunician power once more (for 10 years) and apparently chosen as the heir to the throne. For the first time, Augustus authorized coinage with the portrait of Tiberius announcing his designation as heir. Still Augustus preferred almost anyone else to Tiberius, which became obvious from the aging Emperor’s sudden change of heart by the adoption of Agrippa Postumus, the last surviving grandson who had been exiled to Planasia on charges of rape.
The revolt in Germania (4 – 6 AD) and the major uprising in Pannonia (6 – 9 AD) demanded Tiberius’ presence. When word arrived that the legate, Quinctilius Varus, had been killed with his three legions, massacred in the Teutoburg Forest, it was Tiberius who stabilized the Rhine region. Tiberius achieved great distinction from his victory in the war with the Germans, being given a magnificent triumphal celebration in Rome in 11 AD. It was also Tiberius to whom the task of running the government fell upon as Augustus reached the later stages of his life.
When Augustus died in 14 AD, Agrippa Postumus, who was still in exile, was immediately murdered most likely on the orders of Livia to clear the way for her son. Tiberius, thus, began his reign amid some questions. He would be the first to inherit the throne of Rome and the tradition of inheriting power had not yet been tried. There was much concern and question as to the loyalty of the legions. The legions in Pannonia and Germania revolted for better pay and improved conditions of service. Drusus, Tiberius’ son, was sent to Pannonia while Germanicus, Tiberius’ nephew, son of Drusus the Elder, was dispatched to Germany.
Tiberius engaged in a series of disastrous debates in the Senate as to the extent and nature of his powers.
Senators, I am a human being performing human tasks, and it is my ambition to fulfill the role of princeps [emperor]. I want you to understand this, and I want future generations to believe it; you and they will do more than adequate service to my reputation if I am held to be worthy of my forebears, careful for your interests, steadfast in danger, and not afraid to be unpopular if I am serving the national good. As far as I am concerned, if you hold these opinions of me, they will stand as my temples and my finest statues, and they will last.
Tiberius, quoted in Tacitus,
Tiberius was almost an unwilling ruler who found himself as Emperor due largely, if not entirely, to the political intrigues of his mother Livia who dreamed of a Claudian dynasty. Tiberius was therefore difficult to understand not merely for historians, but also by his contemporaries, particularly those in the Senate. It was little wonder that he had no patience with the flattering politicians of Rome.
Tiberius’ sense of fairness and upstanding character and devotion to his duty was clear during his early reign. He began well in terms of justice and power, for despite his arguments with the Senate, he treated his position with respect and refused to allow any case of treason to go unheard by himself personally. When one man was charged with impiety against the gods, Tiberius replied that the gods must defend their own good name.
As Emperor, Tiberius proved faithful to his deified predecessor, declaring that the acts of Augustus were law. He certainly furthered the authority and the supremacy of the imperial house, but only after it became painfully clear that the Senate was incapable of wielding any true privileges or rights given to it. Corruption and political jealousy was still present within the Senate, which only served to make Tiberius suspicious.
Despite his later reputation for perversion, Tiberius sought to curb not merely corruption but also the declining morals of Roman society. He passed a law forbidding the payment of prostitutes with coinage portraying the image of the Emperor. While this may have been a clever attempt at eliminating prostitution, it only served to illustrate man’s ingenuity. Tokens had become more widely used for a variety of events and games during this period in Roman history. The brothels simply issued tokens of their own depicting a variety of sexual acts, which the patron would purchase and in turn give to the prostitute as payment thereby circumventing the authority of Tiberius.
Much of Tiberius’ trouble stemmed from his inability to effectively communicate with people including his own family. Moody and withdrawn, Tiberius was not seen for the virtues he truly possessed. Tiberius had always felt persecuted by Augustus and manipulated by his mother. No doubt the loss of his brother and his forced marriage with Julia contributed greatly to his suspicious nature as time progressed.
His nephew Germanicus became a respected figure in the Empire and the memory of his brother among the people always tended to overshadow Tiberius. When Germanicus was dispatched to the Rhine he launched a retributive campaign against the Germans. While these operations were more successful from the perspective of propaganda than actual military gain, Tiberius gave Germanicus a triumph in 17 AD.
Germanicus & Drusus
Tiberius had adopted Germanicus as his heir in 4 AD along side his own son Drusus when he himself was adopted by Augustus. We even find coinage minted in the East showing Tiberius with his heirs as illustrated above. His own son Drusus was married to his cousin Livilla who was the daughter of his brother by his wife Antonia and thus the sister of Germanicus. Nevertheless, the triumph celebration granted Germanicus in 17 AD caused tensions within the palace to rise, as the mob in Rome openly preferred dashing Germanicus to the moody Emperor Tiberius. The popularity of Germanicus no doubt had something to do with his being given the IMPERIUM MAIUS and his being sent to the East in 17 AD shortly after his triumph.
Tiberius’ decision to send Germanicus to Syria was most likely the scheme of his mother Livia who still very much dabbled in politics within her son’s court. Whatever the case, the scheme backfired when in 19 AD Germanicus died suddenly at Antioch after quarreling with the Governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. A hot issue erupted as Piso and his wife, Plancina, were suspected of poisoning Germanicus and some suspected Tiberius or more likely Livia.
Germanicus’ wife, Agrippina the Elder, (daughter of Julia and Agrippa) was a very outspoken woman. She was much more like the politically active wife of Marc Antony, Fulvia, but unlike Fulvia, Agrippina had many supporters. Following the death of Germanicus, Agrippina turned into an avenging, bitter opponent of Tiberius and Livia. She began a campaign of open hostility marching in the funeral of Germanicus held in Rome and publicly accusing Livia and Tiberius of murder. Ultimately Tiberius sacrificed his longtime supporter Piso who was put on trial for the murder of Germanicus but forever after Tiberius hated Agrippina for what he viewed was the persecution of an innocent man.
Tiberius finally granted his own son Drusus a triumph for his success in Pannonia on May 28th, 20 AD. But this gesture was perhaps more to try to show the people that they still had an heir to the throne who was the cousin of Germanicus.
Tiberius’ mistrust of the Senators, his mother, Agrippina and others led him to search for a loyal aide. Unfortunately, Tiberius would find little relief long-term as he fell directly into the arms of Lucius Aelius Sejanus who was perhaps the most ambitious Prefect of the Praetorian Guard in Roman History. Sejanus correctly recognized Tiberius’ plight and moved to exploit his suspicious nature into outright paranoia.
With Sejanus at his side, Tiberius’ natural moderate rule of justice and fairness declined as the years passed and as the weight of office increased. Informers (DELATORES) invaded the legal system, as accusations against persons high and low initiated a wave of treason trials and deaths as part of the plot woven by Sejanus. Having worked his way into the Emperor’s trust, he convinced Tiberius that there were plots everywhere, using the resulting fear to widen his own influence. Sejanus on one hand pretended to be the friend of Agrippina while warning her that Tiberius wanted to have her poisoned. Likewise, Sejanus told Tiberius that Agrippina intended to have him assassinated thus he drove a wedge between Tiberius and any potential heirs from the house of Germanicus.
Sejanus then moved the prefectship of the Guard into the CASTRA PRAETORIA, a barracks in Rome, which became his key administrative office from where a reign of terror would emerge. Tiberius, tired of the burden of office, was eager to put absolute faith and trust in Sejanus and even called him his friend and loyal assistant.
Tiberius’ son Drusus disliked Sejanus intensely. He did not know the extent of his ambitions, but still he tried to warn his father about his reliance upon Sejanus and Tiberius did not appreciate his concern. They apparently argued and Drusus struck his father in the process. According to Dio, Tiberius shouted at his son saying “You will commit no act of violence or insubordination while I am alive, nor when I am dead either!”
Finally, in 22 AD, Tiberius granted his son Drusus the tribunician power. The following year, however, he fell a victim to Sejanus, who conspired with his wife Livilla to poison him. Sejanus planned to married Livilla and become the next heir to the throne and to this end, he persecuted everyone who stood in the way of that ambition.
The pressure and intrigue of Rome proved too much and Tiberius was persuaded by Sejanus to leave Rome once and for all, leaving the burdens of government to his care. Tiberius was happy to leave his mother Livia behind as well perhaps in part because he may have suspected her hand in the death of Germanicus. Livia had undoubtedly guided his path to the throne, using every means, including murder to secure his accession. He hated her for it, and her constant interference in his rule made his departure from Rome all the more desirable. Tiberius thus retired to the island of Capri where for once in his life he could feel free.
Livia finally died in 29 AD and Tiberius was intent that the Senate should give her as few honors as possible. When the Senate proposed erecting an arch in her honor Tiberius promised to build the arch himself, but he never did it. However, Livia’s death was not only welcomed by Tiberius, but also by Sejanus for with Livia out of the way, his ambitions knew no bounds. Apparently, Livia had saved many senators from the traps set by Sejanus and she was fond of Caligula, a son of Germanicus whom she also protected.
After Livia’s death Sejanus began a judicial attack against Titius Sabinus, a supporter of Agrippina. This evolved into a trial, which incriminated Agrippina and her two sons Nero and Drusus Caesar that ultimately led to them all being imprisoned. Agrippina was condemned and exiled to the island of Pandateria, where her mother Julia had also died in exile under the orders of her father Augustus. However, before Agrippina departed, Tiberius personally flogged her putting out one of her eyes in the process taking great pleasure for all the pain she had caused him and others. Agrippina eventually committed suicide by starving herself to death.
Nero Caesar was exiled and died (like his mother) on a distant rock 31 AD, while Drusus, who aided Sejanus in turning evidence against his brother, endured many years of misery in a Roman dungeon before succumbing in 33 AD. Sejanus then tried to maneuver himself into the inheritance by petitioning Tiberius for permission to marry his son’s widow, Livilla. Tiberius refused and instead proposed a betrothal to his granddaughter Julia (daughter of Drusus and Livilla), which obviously outraged Livilla.
Between Livia’s plots against the heirs of the Julian line and Sejanus’ plots against the heirs of the Claudian line, one by one most of the potential heirs either died or were murdered. By 31 AD, Sejanus had few overt opponents. Antonia, however, finally became aware of Sejanus’ ambitions perhaps at the insistence of her son Claudius. Whatever the reason, Antonia finally sent a letter of warning to Tiberius, delivered by her most trusted freedman, Pallas. Antonia had always been held in the highest respect by Tiberius who believed the warning and began the intrigue necessary to bring Sejanus into custody. Tiberius was aided by Caligula and the plot involved the promise of position to Macro, Sejanus’ second in command, and a large donative of 1,000 denarii per man to the Praetorian Guard for standing by the Emperor. Sejanus was executed for his crimes but his intrigues revealed far more than anyone imagined.
Sejanus’ former wife Apicata, implicated Livilla in the murder of her husband Drusus and as Sejanus’s co-conspirator. Tiberius did not move against Livilla, partly out of respect for Antonia. Dio reported that Antonia imprisoned Livilla, who either starved to death or killed herself because she knew there was no escape. The last years of Tiberius, from 31 until 37, were characterized by reigns of terror, as anyone associated with Sejanus or anyone guilty of often imaginary crimes was executed.
Tiberius’ retirement to Capri did more to destroy his reputation due largely to his association with his great-nephew, Caligula, the last surviving son of Germanicus. Contemporary historians portrayed Tiberius as a man with peculiar tastes and the image that gave was one of an old, dirty, perverted debaucher – a view that was perhaps exaggerated. Nevertheless, Caligula, who was clearly an insane pervert, did what he could to encourage Tiberius’ adventures into pornography.
Tiberius named Caligula and his own grandson Tiberius Gemellus as his heirs before he died at the age of 78 on March 16th, 37 AD, at the Villa of Lucullus in Misenum. The cause of death was probably natural, although some reported that he was smothered to death under a pillow by the Prefect Macro, on the orders of Caligula. It was during the reign of Tiberius that the Ministry and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred.
Tiberius’ reign was generally effective and Rome prospered under his administration. However, Tiberius’ tyrannies, especially at the close of his reign, were closely scrutinized by Tacitus, who viewed him from the biased age of the Emperor Domitian who studied Tiberius for clues on how to rule and issued posthumous coinage in his honor. The historian Dio summed him up by saying that he possessed many virtues and many vices. Tiberius was perhaps one of the most misunderstood Emperors who suffered greatly at the hands of both his family and his ministers.
Titles and Powers, 4 – 37 AD
Yr Tribunician Power Imp. Acclamation Consul Other
5 TR.P.VI. – VII. IMP.III.
6 TR.P.VII. – VIII.
7 TR.P.VIII. – VIIII.
8 TR.P.VIIII. – X. IMP.V.
9 TR.P.X. – XI.
10 TR.P.XI. – XII.
11 TR.P.XII. – XIII. IMP.VI.
12 TR.P.XIII. – XIIII. IMP.VII.
13 TR.P.XIIII. – XV.
14 TR.P.XV. – XVI. AVGVSTVS.
15 TR.P.XVI. – XVII. P.M.
16 TR.P.XVII. – XVIII.
17 TR.P.XVIII. – XVIIII.
18 TR.P.XVIIII. – XX. IMP.VIII. COS.III.
19 TR.P.XX. – XXI.
20 TR.P.XXI. – XXII.
21 TR.P.XXII. – XXIII. COS.IIII.
22 TR.P.XXIII. – XXIIII.
23 TR.P.XXIIII. – XXV.
24 TR.P.XXV. – XXVI.
25 TR.P.XXVI. – XXVII.
26 TR.P.XXVII. – XXVIII.
27 TR.P.XXVIII. – XXVIIII.
28 TR.P.XXVIIII. – XXX.
29 TR.P.XXX. XXXI.
30 TR.P.XXXI. – XXXII.
31 TR.P.XXXII. – XXXIII. COS.V
32 TR.P.XXXIII. – XXXIIII.
33 TR.P.XXXIIII. – XXXV.
34 TR.P.XXXV. – XXXVI.
35 TR.P.XXXVI. – XXXVII.
36 TR.P.XXXVII. – XXXVIII.
Note: Tiberius’ first two consulships were in 13 BC and 7 BC. He first received the tribunician power in 6 BC when it was granted to him for a period of five years while serving under Augustus. Shortly after his withdrawal from public life due to his intolerable situation with Augustus’ daughter Julia, Tiberius retired to Rhodes where he allowed his tribunician power to expire in 1 BC and it subsequently lapsed for four years. Following the deaths of Augustus’ grandsons, Caius and Lucius, Tiberius was reinvested with the power on June 27th, 4 AD, and it was subsequently renewed each year on that date.
Silver Denarius of Tiberius
Mints: Rome, Lugdunum, Caesarea, Samosata (?)
TI CAESAR AVGVSTI F IMPERATOR V
TI CAESAR AVGVSTI F IMPERAT V
TI CAESAR AVGVSTI F IMPERAT VII
As Augustus (Emperor)
TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS
TI DIVI F AVGVSTVS
TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVST PM TR POT XXIIII
TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVST IMP VIII
As Caesar (Designated Heir)
AR Denarius (Augustus/Tiberius)
As Augustus (Emperor)
AU Aureus (7.54 grams)
AR Denarius (3.54 grams)
Commemorative Aureus issued by Trajan
Restoration of Trajan 117 AD
Restoration of Titus
Æ As (Bare hd left/SC)
Æ As (Bare hd rt/SC)
Æ As (Bare hd rt/Winged Caduceus)
Restoration by Domitian
Æ As (Bare Hd Left/SC)