Facts About the Roman Emperor Tiberius

Bust of Roman emperor Tiberius
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The Roman emperor Tiberius (42 BCE - 37 AD) was the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia, wife of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Reluctantly, Augustus adopted Tiberius and groomed him for the role of emperor, but if there had been an alternative, Tiberius would have been overlooked.

Tiberius was a very capable military leader and a sensible civic leader who tried to restrain the budget, but he was dour and unpopular. He is known for treason trials, sexual perversion, and shirking his responsibility by going into seclusion.

Roman historians Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and Tacitus all wrote about Tiberius. Suetonius says he was probably born on November 16 in 42 B.C. on the Palatine Hill or at Fundi. His biological father was a quaestor who died when Tiberius was 9 years old. Augustus adopted Tiberius (A.D. 4) and married him to his daughter Julia.

When Augustus died in A.D. 14, Tiberius succeeded him as emperor.

Tiberius died on March 16, 37 AD, at age 77. He had ruled for nearly 23 years. His death is usually attributed to poisoning by the notorious Caligula, who was one of Tiberius' heirs.

Tiberius' Early Career

In his early civic career, Tiberius defended and prosecuted at court and before the Senate. He secured a charge of high treason against Fannius Caepio and Varro Murena. He reorganized the grain supply, investigated irregularities in slave barracks where free people were detained improperly and where draft dodgers pretended to be slaves.

He became quaestor, praetor and consul at a young age, and received the power of a tribune for five years. Then he retired to Rhodes against the wishes of Augustus.

Early Military Accomplishments

His first military campaign was against the Cantabrians. He then went to Armenia where he restored Tigranes to the throne. He collected missing Roman standards from the Parthian court.

Tiberius was sent to govern the "long-haired" Gauls and fought in the Alps, Pannonia, and Germany. He subjugated various Germanic peoples and took 40,000 of them prisoner. He then settled them in homes in Gaul. Tiberius received an ovation and a triumph in 9 and 7 BCE.

Julia and Exile

Tiberius had been forcibly divorced from his first wife in order to marry Augustus' daughter Julia. Tiberius lost interest in her, and when he retired to Rhodes, Julia was banished by her father for her immoral behavior. Tiberius tried to come back when his tribunician power ended, but his petition was denied. He was refered to as The Exile.

In time, Tiberius' mother Livia arranged for his recall, but Tiberius had to renounce all political aspirations. However, when all other likely successors died, Augustus adopted Tiberius, who in turn had to adopt his nephew Germanicus.

Later Military Accomplishments and Ascension to Emperor

Tiberius was given tribunician power for 3 years. First he was to pacify Germany. He was then sent to suppress the Illyrian revolt. At then end of 3 years, he achieved complete submission of the Illyrians. For this he was voted a triumph. He postponed the triumph out of deference to Varus' disaster in Germany, but then he put on a triumphal banquet with 1000 tables. With the sale of his spoils, he restored the temples of Concord and Castor and Pollux.

The consuls then awarded Tiberius joint control of the provinces with Augustus.

When Augustus died, Tiberius, as tribune, convened the Senate. A freedman read Augustus' will naming Tiberius as successor. Tiberius called on the praetorians to provide him a bodyguard but didn't take the title of emperor immediately nor even his inherited title of Augustus.

At first, Tiberius despised sycophants, intervened in matters of state to check abuses and excesses, abolished Egyptian and Jewish cults in Rome, and banished astrologers. He consolidated the Praetorians for efficiency, crushed city riots, and abolished the right of sanctuary.

A reign of terror started as informers accused Roman men and women of many, even silly crimes that led to capital punishment and confiscation of their estates. In Capri, Tiberius stopped fulfilling his civic obligations but instead engaged in licentious acts. Most familiar is his training of little boys to act as nipping minnows. Tiberius' mean and vengeful streak caught his erstwhile confidant, Sejanus, accused of conspiracy against the emperor. Until Sejanus was destroyed, people had blamed him for the excesses of the emperor.

Tiberius and Caligula

During Tiberius' exile in Capri, Gaius (Caligula) came to live with the old man, his adopted grandfather. Tiberius included Caligula as joint heir in his will. The other heir was Tiberius' brother Drusus' child. According to Tacitus, when it looked as though Tiberius was on his last legs, Caligula tried to take sole control, but then Tiberius recovered. The head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro, stepped in and had the old emperor smothered.