The Reign of Tiberius

The Death of Tiberius

Following the death of Augustus, in 14 AD, Tiberius became the Emperor of Rome. 

In the wake of the death of Augustus, the Senate convened on September 18, 14 AD to validate Tiberius’ position as Princeps. Tiberius had already inherited all of Augustus’ administrative authority. He only lacked Augustus’ titles and the symbols of his office.

Tiberius Becomes Emperor

Similarly to Augustus before him, Tiberius tried to play the role of the reluctant public servant, however, unlike Augustus he was unable to do so successfully. Instead of appearing accepting and humble, Tiberius appeared derisive of the Senate. He argued that he was not old enough to accept the title of Princeps. He also refused to bear the titles of Pater Patriae, Imperator, or Augustus. Tiberius also declined to wear the Civic Crown. Consequently, instead of appearing humble, he appeared to be obstructive and dismissive of the Senate.

Tiberius and Germanicus

Not long after he was installed as Emperor, Tiberius faced his first crisis. The Roman Legions posted to Pannonia and Germania had been promised bonus money, in addition to their regular pay by Augustus. When the promised bonus money did not appear to be forthcoming the Legions mutinied. Tiberius responded by sending his nephew, and adopted son, Germanicus, along with Tiberius’ son Drusus Julius Caeser, with a small force to bring the rebellious Legions back into line. Rather than simply punishing the Legions, Germanicus rallied the mutinous troops by telling them that whatever booty they could carry they could keep as their bonuses. Germanicus’s forces occupied all the territory between the Rhine and the Elbe River. In a single stroke, Germanicus had dealt a significant blow to the Germanic tribes, brought rebellious Legions back into line and recaptured lost Roman battle flags.

After returning from Germania, Germanicus was given the honour of a Triumph in 17 AD. Following this, Germanicus was given control in the East, this seems to indicate that Tiberius had selected Germanicus as his successor. However, Germanicus was poisoned later that year, most likely by Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the Governor of Syria.Following the assassination of Germanicus, Piso was placed on trial and threatened to implicate Tiberius in the death of his nephew. Whether Piso was actually able to link Tiberius to the murder of Germanicus is unknown. When it became clear that the Senate was against him, Piso took his own life.

Around the same time, Tiberius seemed to tire of politics. In 22 AD, he gave his son Drusus tribunal authority. He also began to take yearly trips to Campania, which increased in length as the years went by. In 23 AD, Drusus died in mysterious circumstances, and Tiberius made no attempts to designate a new successor.

The Later of Reign of Tiberius

Tiberius gradually became more and more embittered with the Principate. At the same time he also became more and more dependant on Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard served as the Emperor’s security detail and as well as providing the Legionary garrison for the city of Rome.With Tiberius’ withdrawal from public life, Sejanus was left in total control of the Empire’s administrative apparatus.

In spite of his position in Tiberius’ government, Tiberius did not select Sejanus as his successor. However, Sejanus controlled the flow of information between Rome and Tiberius’ villa on Capri. Sejanus’ interest in Livia, Augustus’ third wife seemed to check his desire for more power. However, following her death in 29 AD, Sejanus purged the Senate and the Roman aristocracy of anyone who could oppose Tiberius or himself.

In 31 AD, Sejanus shared the Consulship with Tiberius, who ruled in absentia. At the same time, Sejanus also began to court the families with ties to the Julians, with an eye toward becoming Emperor. The plot seems to have involved Sejanus and Livillia, the sister of Emperor Claudius, overthrowing Tiberius with the support of the Julians

Later that year, Sejanus was summoned to a meeting of the Senate, during which a letter from Tiberius was read aloud. Tiberius denounced Sejanus and ordered his immediate execution. Sejanus and a number of his companions were arrested, tried and executed within the week. Sejanus was replaced as the commander of the Praetorian Guard by Naevius Sutorius Macro.

The deadly affair with Sejanus and the resulting purges permanently damaged Tiberius’ image and reputation. After Sejanus’ treachery, Tiberius completely withdrew from public life, allowing the bureaucracy of the Empire to run under its own inertia.

Little was done to find Tiberius a new successor, nor to indicate when or how this succession should take place. There were only two suitable candidates. The first was Caligula, the only surviving son of Germanicus, and the other was Tiberius Gemellus, Tiberius’ grandson. At the very end of his life, Tiberius made a half-hearted attempt to secure the post of Quaestor for Caligula in order to give him some legitimacy. Gemellus was considered far too young to succeed Tiberius.

The Death of Tiberius

Tiberius died in Misenum on March 16, 37 AD. Tacitus claimed that the crowds cheered when it was announced that he had been smothered by Macro and Caligula. It is a mark of Tiberius’ unpopularity that the Senate refused to deify him. Tiberius’ will stated that Caligula and Gemellus were to share his power. However, one of Caligula’s first acts was to void Tiberius’ will and have Gemellus put to death.


Roman History by Publius Cornelius Tacitus

Seager, Robin (2005). Tiberius. Blackwell PublishingShotter, David (1992). Tiberius Caesar. London: Routledge

Salmon, Edward (1968). History of the Roman World, 30 B.C.-A.D.138, Part II: Tiberius. Methuen

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