Tiberius, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne (8115606671).jpg
Bust of the Emperor Tiberius
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign18 September 14 AD –
16 March 37 AD
(22 years)
BornTiberius Claudius Nero
16 November 42 BC
Died16 March AD 37 (aged 77)
Misenum, Italy (Roman Empire)
Regnal name
Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus
HouseJulio-Claudian dynasty
Religionancient Roman religion

Tiberius (s/; Latin: Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus;[1][2] 16 November 42 BC – 16 March 37 AD) was Roman emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD, succeeding the first emperor, Augustus.

Born to Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla in a Claudian family, he was given the personal name Tiberius Claudius Nero. His mother divorced Nero and married Octavian—later to ascend to Emperor as Augustus—who officially became his stepfather. Tiberius would later marry Augustus' daughter (from his marriage to Scribonia), Julia the Elder, and even later be adopted by Augustus. Through the adoption, he officially became a Julian, assuming the name Tiberius Julius Caesar. The emperors after Tiberius would continue this blended dynasty of both families for the following thirty years; historians have named it the Julio-Claudian dynasty. His relationship to the other emperors of this dynasty was as follows: Tiberius was the stepson of Augustus, grand-uncle of Caligula, paternal uncle of Claudius, and great-grand uncle of Nero. His 22-and-a-half-year reign would be the longest after Augustus's until Antoninus Pius, who surpassed his reign by a few months.

Tiberius was one of the greatest Roman generals; his conquest of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and temporarily, parts of Germania, laid the foundations for the northern frontier. Even so, he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive and sombre ruler who never really desired to be emperor; Pliny the Elder called him "the gloomiest of men."[3] After the death of his son Drusus Julius Caesar in 23 AD, Tiberius became more reclusive and aloof. In 26 AD he removed himself from Rome and left administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous Praetorian prefects Lucius Aelius Sejanus and Quintus Naevius Sutorius Macro. When Tiberius died, he was succeeded by his grand-nephew and adopted grandson, Caligula.[4]

Early life

Roman imperial dynasties
Julio-Claudian dynasty
Augustus 27 BC – AD 14
Tiberius AD 14–37
Caligula AD 37–41
Claudius AD 41–54
Nero AD 54–68
Gens Julia
Gens Claudia
Julio-Claudian family tree
Category:Julio-Claudian dynasty
Preceded by
Roman Republic
Followed by
Year of the Four Emperors
Tiberius and his mother Livia, AD 14-19, from Paestum, National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid


Tiberius was born in Rome on 16 November 42 BC to Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia.[5][6] In 39 BC his mother divorced his biological father and remarried Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus shortly thereafter, while still pregnant with Tiberius Nero's son. In 38 BC his brother, Nero Claudius Drusus, was born.[7]

Little is recorded of Tiberius's early life. In 32 BC Tiberius, at the age of nine, delivered the eulogy for his biological father at the rostra.[8] In 29 BC, he rode in the triumphal chariot along with his adoptive father Octavian in celebration of the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium.[8]

In 23 BC Emperor Augustus became gravely ill and his possible death threatened to plunge the Roman world into chaos again. Historians generally agree that it is during this time that the question of Augustus' heir became most acute, and while Augustus had seemed to indicate that Agrippa and Marcellus would carry on his position in the event of his death, the ambiguity of succession became Augustus' chief problem.[9]

In response, a series of potential heirs seem to have been selected, among them Tiberius and his brother Drusus. In 24 BC, at the age of seventeen, Tiberius entered politics under Augustus' direction, receiving the position of quaestor,[10] and was granted the right to stand for election as praetor and consul five years in advance of the age required by law.[11] Similar provisions were made for Drusus.[12]

Civil and military career

Shortly thereafter Tiberius began appearing in court as an advocate,[13] and it is presumably here that his interest in Greek rhetoric began. In 20 BC, Tiberius was sent East under Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.[14] The Parthian Empire had captured the standards of the legions under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus (53 BC) (at the Battle of Carrhae), Decidius Saxa (40 BC), and Mark Antony (36 BC).[11]

After a year of negotiation, Tiberius led a sizable force into Armenia, presumably with the goal of establishing it as a Roman client state and ending the threat it posed on the Roman-Parthian border. Augustus was able to reach a compromise whereby the standards were returned, and Armenia remained a neutral territory between the two powers.[11]

A bust of Vipsania Agrippina, Tiberius' first wife, recovered from Leptis Magna.

Tiberius married Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus’s close friend and greatest general, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.[15] He was appointed to the position of praetor, and was sent with his legions to assist his brother Drusus in campaigns in the west. While Drusus focused his forces in Gallia Narbonensis and along the German frontier, Tiberius combated the tribes in the Alps and within Transalpine Gaul, conquering Raetia. In 15 BC he discovered the sources of the Danube, and soon afterwards the bend of the middle course.[16] Returning to Rome in 13 BC, Tiberius was appointed as consul, and around this same time his son, Drusus Julius Caesar, was born.[17]

Agrippa's death in 12 BC elevated Tiberius and Drusus with respect to the succession. At Augustus’ request in 11 BC, Tiberius divorced Vipsania and married Julia the Elder, Augustus' daughter and Agrippa's widow.[18][15] Tiberius was very reluctant to do this, as Julia had made advances to him when she was married and Tiberius was happily married. His new marriage with Julia was happy at first, but turned sour.[15]

Reportedly, Tiberius once ran into Vipsania again, and proceeded to follow her home crying and begging forgiveness;[15] soon afterwards, Tiberius met with Augustus, and steps were taken to ensure that Tiberius and Vipsania would never meet again.[19] Tiberius continued to be elevated by Augustus, and after Agrippa's death and his brother Drusus' death in 9 BC, seemed the clear candidate for succession. As such, in 12 BC he received military commissions in Pannonia and Germania; both areas highly volatile and of key importance to Augustan policy.

The campaigns of Tiberius, Ahenobarbus, and Saturninus in Germania between 6 BC and 1 BC.

In 6 BC, Tiberius launched a pincer movement against the Marcomanni. Setting out northwest from Carnuntum on the Danube with four legions, Tiberius passed through Quadi territory in order to invade Marcomanni territory from the east. Meanwhile, general Gaius Sentius Saturninus would depart east from Moguntiacum on the Rhine with two or three legions, pass through newly annexed Hermunduri territory, and attack the Marcomanni from the west. The campaign was a resounding success, but Tiberius could not subjugate the Marcomanni because he was soon summoned to the Rhine frontier to protect Rome's new conquests in Germania.

He returned to Rome and was consul for a second time in 7 BC, and in 6 BC was granted tribunician power (tribunicia potestas) and control in the East,[20] all of which mirrored positions that Agrippa had previously held. However, despite these successes and despite his advancement, Tiberius was not happy.[21]

Retirement to Rhodes (6 BC)

Remnants of Tiberius' villa at Sperlonga, on the coast midway between Rome and Naples

In 6 BC, on the verge of accepting command in the East and becoming the second most powerful man in Rome, Tiberius suddenly announced his withdrawal from politics and retired to Rhodes.[22] The precise motives for Tiberius's withdrawal are unclear.[23] Historians have speculated a connection with the fact that Augustus had adopted Julia's sons by Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius, and seemed to be moving them along the same political path that both Tiberius and Drusus had trodden.[24]

Tiberius's move thus seemed to be an interim solution: he would hold power only until his stepsons would come of age, and then be swept aside. The promiscuous, and very public, behavior of his unhappily married wife, Julia,[25] may have also played a part.[20] Indeed, Tacitus calls it Tiberius' intima causa, his innermost reason for departing for Rhodes, and seems to ascribe the entire move to a hatred of Julia and a longing for Vipsania.[26] Tiberius had found himself married to a woman he loathed, who publicly humiliated him with nighttime escapades in the Roman Forum, and forbidden to see the woman he had loved.[27]

Whatever Tiberius's motives, the withdrawal was almost disastrous for Augustus's succession plans. Gaius and Lucius were still in their early teens, and Augustus, now 57 years old, had no immediate successor. There was no longer a guarantee of a peaceful transfer of power after Augustus's death, nor a guarantee that his family, and therefore his family's allies, would continue to hold power should the position of princeps survive.[27]

Somewhat apocryphal stories tell of Augustus pleading with Tiberius to stay, even going so far as to stage a serious illness.[27] Tiberius's response was to anchor off the shore of Ostia until word came that Augustus had survived, then sailing straightway for Rhodes.[28] Tiberius reportedly regretted his departure and requested to return to Rome several times, but each time Augustus refused his requests.[29]

Heir to Augustus

With Tiberius's departure, succession rested solely on Augustus' two young grandsons, Lucius and Gaius Caesar. The situation became more precarious in AD 2 with the death of Lucius. Augustus, with perhaps some pressure from Livia, allowed Tiberius to return to Rome as a private citizen and nothing more.[30] In AD 4, Gaius was killed in Armenia, and Augustus had no other choice but to turn to Tiberius.[31][32]

The death of Gaius in AD 4 initiated a flurry of activity in the household of Augustus. Tiberius was adopted as full son and heir and in turn, he was required to adopt his nephew, Germanicus, the son of his brother Drusus and Augustus' niece Antonia Minor.[31][33] Along with his adoption, Tiberius received tribunician power as well as a share of Augustus's maius imperium, something that even Marcus Agrippa may never have had.[34]

In AD 7, Agrippa Postumus, a younger brother of Gaius and Lucius, was disowned by Augustus and banished to the island of Pianosa, to live in solitary confinement.[32][35] Thus, when in AD 13, the powers held by Tiberius were made equal, rather than second, to Augustus's own powers, he was for all intents and purposes a "co-princeps" with Augustus, and, in the event of the latter's passing, would simply continue to rule without an interregnum or possible upheaval.[36]

However, according to Suetonius, after a two-year stint in Germania, which lasted from 10−12 AD,[37] "Tiberius returned and celebrated the triumph which he had postponed, accompanied also by his generals, for whom he had obtained the triumphal regalia. And before turning to enter the Capitol, he dismounted from his chariot and fell at the knees of his father, who was presiding over the ceremonies.”[38] "Since the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him, he set out for Illyricum on the conclusion of the lustral ceremonies."[39]

Thus, according to Suetonius, these ceremonies and the declaration of his "co-princeps" took place in the year 12 AD, after Tiberius' return from Germania.[37] "But he was at once recalled, and finding Augustus in his last illness but still alive, he spent an entire day with him in private."[39] Augustus died in AD 14, a month before his 76th birthday.[40] He was buried with all due ceremony and, as had been arranged beforehand, deified, his will read, and Tiberius, now a middle aged man at 55, was confirmed as his sole surviving heir.[41]

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