Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus

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Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus

Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus (42 B.C.-A.D. 37) was successor to Augustus and second emperor of Rome. His reign is seen as a period of growth and consolidation of the power of the Julio-Claudian family.

Tiberius was born in Rome, both his parents being members of noted Roman patrician families. His father was Tiberius Claudius Nero; his mother was Livia, who later divorced Claudius to marry Octavian. Tiberius was, therefore, the stepson of the future emperor and later became both his adopted son and heir, as well as his son-in-law.

Tiberius was first introduced into public life at the age of 9, when he delivered a eulogy at his father's funeral. He entered the military service, performing ably and well, until suddenly, in 6 B.C., he retired to Rhodes, supposedly incensed because Augustus had chosen one of his grandsons as heir, passing over Tiberius.

In A.D. 2, Tiberius returned to Rome but without the approval of Augustus. By A.D. 4, however, all of the Emperor's choices for the throne had died and, reluctantly, Augustus designated Tiberius as his successor. It was at this time that he was named tribune, a high administrative post which he held for 10 years. In A.D. 13 his term as tribune was extended, and he was granted imperial power by the Senate as well.

Accession to the Empire

At the death of Augustus in 14, Tiberius assumed control of the government, and his election as emperor was formally confirmed by the Roman Senate, although at this time no scheme of hereditary succession had been established. As a contemporary historian, Tacitus, states, "Tiberius would inaugurate everything with the consuls, as though the ancient constitution remained, and he hesitated about being emperor." One of his first official acts was the proclamation of the divinity of Augustus and the establishment of worship of the emperor-god.

When he came to the throne, Tiberius was already a middle-aged man. His first marriage had been dissolved by order of Augustus, and he had been forced by the Emperor to marry Augustus's daughter, Julia, in 12 B.C. During his period of retirement in Rhodes, Tiberius had spent a great deal of time studying philosophy and literature, and according to Suetonius, one of his biographers, "he was greatly devoted to liberal studies in both languages, Greek and Latin."

Tiberius was a skillful administrator, conservative in matters of finance. In the governing of the provinces, he followed the policies which had been established by Augustus. His military policy was to strengthen and fortify the defenses of the empire and to use diplomacy rather than force. His reign marks the beginning of the Pax Romana, a period of 200 years of relative peace and stability.

The latter years of his rule were marred by conspiracies, frequent trials for sedition (maiestas) in the Senate, and dangerous accusations from all sides. Tiberius became increasingly fearful for his safety. He was encouraged by his advisers to retire from public view. He went to Capri in A.D. 23, never again to return to Rome. In 37 he died, contemporary sources say, completely insane.

Further Reading

Contemporary biographies of Tiberius were written by Tacitus and Suetonius. Further material on the Emperor can be found in Frank B. Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius (1931), and Robert S. Rogers, Studies in the Reign of Tiberius (1943). A general picture of the times is in Mason Hammond, The Augustan Principate in Theory and Practice during the Julio-Claudian Period (1933; rev. ed. 1968).

Additional Sources

Levick, Barbara, Tiberius the politician, London; Dover, N.H.: Croom Helm, 1986 printing, 1976.

Shotter, D. C. A. (David Colin Arthur), Tiberius Caesar, London; New York: Routledge, 1992.

Suetonius, ca. 69-ca. 122., Suetonius on the life of Tiberiu, New York: Arno Press, 1979, c1941. □