Tiberius Caesar
Tiberius bust
Reign: August 19 14 – March 16 37
Predecessor: Augustus Caesar
Successor: Caligula
Consort: 1) Vipsania Agrippina, 20 BC - 12 BC

2) Julia the Elder, 11 BC - 2 BC

Issue: 1) Julius Caesar Drusus

2) 1, died in infancy

Royal House: Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Father: Tiberius Nero
Mother: Livia Drucilla
Birth: November 16, 42 BC
Death: August 19, AD 14
in Misenum
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Tiberius Caesar Augustus, born Tiberius Claudius Nero (November 16, 42 BC – March 16 AD 37), was the second Roman Emperor, from the death of Augustus in AD 14 until his own death in 37. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Nero and Livia. His mother divorced his father and remarried to Augustus in 39 BC. Tiberius would later marry Augustus' daughter Julia the Elder (from an earlier marriage) and even later be adopted by Augustus and by this act he became a Julian. The subsequent emperors after Tiberius would continue this blended dynasty of both families for the next forty years; historians have named it the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Tiberius Claudius Nero deserves recognition as one of Rome's greatest generals, whose campaigns in Pannonia, Illyricum, Rhaetia and Germania laid the foundations for the northern frontier. But he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, and sombre ruler (tristissimus hominum – ‘the gloomiest of men’, by one account), who never really desired to be Emperor. After the death of Tiberius’ son Drusus in 23, the quality of his rule declined, and ended in a Terror. In 26 Tiberius exiled himself from Rome and left administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous Praetorian Prefects Lucius Aelius Sejanus and Quintus Naevius Macro. Caligula, Tiberius’ adopted grandson, succeeded the Emperor on his demise.


Emperor Tiberius on Coin from Segobriga- Joe Geranio Collection

==Early life==

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on 16 November 42 BC to Tiberius Nero and Livia Drusilla. In 38 BC, a younger brother, Nero Claudius Drusus, was born and the brothers developed a famously close relationship. From his birth in a noble family¹, Tiberius was destined for public life. But during his boyhood the old Roman Republican system of rule by Senate and magistrates; which had been tottering for decades, was finally toppled and replaced by an autocracy under the able and ambitious Octavian (later known as Augustus). It proved fateful for Tiberius when, in 39 BC at age three, his mother divorced his father Tiberius Nero and married Octavian, thereby making the infant Tiberius the stepson of the future ruler of the Roman Empire.

Tiberius's early life was relatively uneventful, even if the times were not. In 32 BC, as civil war loomed between Mark Antony and Octavian, Tiberius made his first public appearance at the age of nine and delivered the eulogy at his natural father's funeral. In the years following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, as Octavian secured his position as Roman Emperor and became Augustus, Tiberius grew to maturity and took his first real steps in public life. In 29 BC, he took part in Augustus' triumph for the Actium campaign, riding on the left of Augustus in the triumphal chariot. Five years later, at the age of seventeen, he became a quaestor and was given the privilege of standing for the praetorship and consulship five years in advance of the age required by law.

He then began appearing in court as an advocate and was sent by Augustus to the East where, in 20 BC, he oversaw one of his stepfather's proudest successes. The Parthians, who had captured the standards of the legions lost in the failed Eastern campaigns of Marcus Crassus (53 BC), Decidius Saxa (40 BC), and Mark Antony (36 BC), formally returned them to the Romans. After returning from the East, Tiberius was granted praetorian rank and, in 13 BC, he became consul.

Between his praetorship and consulship, he was on active duty with his brother, Nero Claudius Drusus, combating the tribes in the Alps (the Raetians and Vindelici). In 16 BC he discovered the sources of the Danube, and soon afterwards the bend of the middle course. His personal life was also blessed at this time by a happy marriage to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus’s life-long friend and right-hand man, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. The marriage probably took place in 20 BC or 19 BC and during his consulship of 13 BC, his wife produced a son, Julius Caesar Drusus.

When Agrippa died in 12 BC, Tiberius, on Augustus’s insistence, divorced Vipsania and married Agrippa's widow, Julia the Elder, who was also Augustus' daughter. The union was not a happy one and produced one child who died as an infant. Tiberius had been happily married to Vipsania and, following an embarrassing display in public, care was taken that their paths should never again cross. Nevertheless, Tiberius's elevation in his stepfather's succession scheme continued. He received important military commissions in Pannonia and Germania between 12 BC and 6 BC and proved very successful in the field. He was consul for a second time in 7 BC, and, in 6 BC, he was granted tribunician power (tribunicia potestas) and an extensive commission in the East. In essence, Tiberius had replaced Agrippa as Augustus’s successor. He was Julia's husband, the leading general in the state, and he enjoyed a share of the emperor's power. Everything seemed settled, until Tiberius himself confounded everyone's calculations.

Retirement to RhodesEdit

Without warning, in 6 BC Tiberius announced his withdrawal from public life and went to live on Rhodes with some personal friends and an astrologer. The motives for Tiberius's withdrawal are unclear, but they are likely to have been connected with Augustus’s grandchildren Gaius and Lucius, whom Augustus had, in the absence of sons of his own, adopted.

Whatever Tiberius's motives, the move was not only a snub to Augustus, it was also highly inconvenient to his succession plans. Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar were still too young to assume the heavy responsibilities of the Principate, and Augustus now had no immediate successor to assume power and see the boys to maturity, since Tiberius's brother Drusus had died of an illness, an infection in an injury caused by falling off his horse, in 9 BC.

Whatever had been Augustus’s opinion of Tiberius, he seems to have had little patience with, or affection for him after his exile. Something of Augustus’s irritation is revealed by his repeated refusal to allow Tiberius to return to Rome after Tiberius realized the delicacy of his position on Rhodes; and this in spite of pressure brought to bear on Augustus by his influential and persuasive wife, Livia. When Tiberius's tribunician powers ran out in 1 BC, they were not renewed, and his situation became even more precarious. According to Suetonius, he was expecting a ship bearing the order for his death. Ultimately, however, a ship was to arrive with quite different tidings.

Tiberius coin

Denarius coin depicting Tiberius.

When he was emperorEdit

The accession of Tiberius proved intensely awkward. After Augustus had been buried and deified, and his will read and honored, the Senate convened on 18 September to inaugurate the new reign and officially "confirm" Tiberius as emperor. Such a transfer of power had never happened before, and nobody, including Tiberius, appears to have known what to do. Tacitus's account is the fullest of what happened. Tiberius came to the Senate to have various powers and titles voted to him. However, this too caused confusion, as he also had bestowed almost all of the imperial titles and powers on Tiberius, save for auctoritas, Augustus, Pater Patriae, and the Civic Crown (a crown made from laurel and oak, in honor of Augustus having saved the lives of Roman citizens). Perhaps in an attempt to imitate the tact of Augustus, Tiberius donned the mask of the reluctant public servant — and botched the performance. Rather than tactful, he came across to the Senators as obdurate and obstructive. He declared that he was too old for the responsibilities of the Principate, said he did not want the job, and asked if he could just take one part of the government for himself. The Senate was confused, not knowing how to read his behavior. Finally, one senator asked pointedly, "Sire, for how long will you allow the State to be without a head?" Tiberius relented and accepted the powers voted to him, and according to Tacitus and Suetonius, he refused to bear the titles Pater Patriae, Imperator, and Augustus, and declined the most solid emblem on the Princeps, the Civic Crown.

The first meeting between the Senate and the new Emperor established a blueprint for their later interaction. Throughout his reign, Tiberius was to baffle, befuddle, and frighten the Senators. He seems to have hoped that they would act on his implicit desires rather than on his explicit requests. There was trouble not only at Rome, however. The legions posted in Pannonia and in Germania, the most powerful concentration of troops in the Empire, took the opportunity afforded by Augustus’s death to voice their complaints about the terms and conditions of their service, and that they had not received bonuses promised to them by Augustus. At that time, troops were paid from the Imperial treasury, as well as being allowed to supplement this income with a share of the captured booty from campaigns; however, Augustus had suspended military campaigns outside of Roman territory, and in his will had left instructions behind that the Empire was to expand no more. The generals Germanicus (a Claudian adopted by Augustus into the Julian line, and thought by many to have been his preferred heir over Tiberius) and Tiberius's son, Drusus, were dispatched with a small force to quell the uprising. Rather than simply quell the mutiny however, Germanicus rallied the mutineers and led them on a short campaign across the Rhine into Germanic territory, stating that whatever booty they could grab would count as their bonus. Germanicus's forces smashed across the Rhine and quickly occupied all of the territory between the Rhine and the Elbe. Additionally, Tacitus records the capture of the Teutoburg forest and the reclaiming of standards lost years before when four Roman legions had been ambushed by a band of Germans.

Despite his difficult relationship with the Senate and the Rhine mutinies, Tiberius's first years were generally good. He stayed true to Augustus’s plans for the succession and clearly favored his adopted son Germanicus over his natural son, Drusus, as did the Roman populace. On Tiberius's request, Germanicus was granted proconsular power and assumed command in the prime military zone of Germania, where he suppressed the mutiny there and led the formerly restless legions on campaigns against Germanic tribes from 14 to 16.

After being recalled from Germania, Germanicus celebrated a triumph in Rome in 17. While legally speaking, Germanicus had disobeyed orders from both Tiberius and Augustus, the popularity that Germanicus received from his exploits across the Rhine and from retrieving the lost standards was more than Tiberius, as a new and comparatively less popular Emperor, could possibly hope to compete with. In the same year, Germanicus was granted imperium maius over the East and, in 18, after being consul with Tiberius as his colleague, he was sent East, just as Tiberius himself had been almost four decades earlier, clearly indicating that Germanicus was to be considered the heir to Tiberius. The elevation of Germanicus was perhaps nothing more than a show to placate the Roman populace and remove Germanicus from Rome; Germanicus died in 19 and, on his deathbed, accused the governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, of murdering him. Piso was a long-time friend of Tiberius and his appointee to the Syrian governorship, so suspicion for Germanicus’s death ultimately came to rest at the palace door.

When Germanicus’s widow, Agrippina the Elder returned to Italy carrying her popular husband's ashes, she publicly declared Piso guilty of murder and hinted at the involvement of more hidden agents. Piso was put on trial in the Senate, where he expected some help from his friend, Tiberius. Instead Tiberius remained motionless and let the proceedings take their course. Tacitus records a tradition that Piso, realising his peril, threatened to make public a document that would embarrass the Emperor, but that Sejanus dissuaded him with vain promises. Be that as it may, Piso abandoned his defence and committed suicide, while the incriminating document, if it had ever existed, was suppressed. The suspicious circumstances of Germanicus' death gave rise to much odium against the Emperor, while relations between Tiberius and Agrippina were permanently damaged.

With Germanicus dead and Nero Caesar the oldest son still hardly 15 years of age, Tiberius began elevating his own son Drusus with a view to the ultimate succession. In 21 Tiberius held the consulship with Drusus, just as in 18 he had held it with Germanicus. In 22 Drusus was accorded the tribunician power, a distinction reserved for the emperor or for his immediate successor. It looked as though Tiberius would be able to retire and leave his son in charge of affairs, as heir to the Principate. But now fate was to intervene and disturb everything.


Sejanus hailed from Volsinii in Etruria, from the equites family of Lucius Seius Strabo, who also shared the Praetorian Prefecture until 15 when his father was promoted to be Prefect of Aegyptus, the pinnacle of an equestrian career under the Principate. Sejanus enjoyed powerful connections to Senatorial houses and had been a companion to Gaius Caesar on his mission to the East, from 1 BC - AD 4. Through a combination of energetic efficiency, fawning sycophancy, and outward displays of loyalty, he gained the position of Tiberius's closest friend and advisor.

Tiberius, whom historians depict by this stage as tired and bitter old man, left more and more of the day-to-day running of the Empire to Sejanus. Sejanus created an atmosphere of fear in Rome, controlling a network of informers and spies whose incentive to accuse others of treason was a share in the accused's property after their conviction and death. Treason trials became commonplace; few members of the Roman aristocracy were completely safe. The trials played up to Tiberius' growing paranoia, which made him more reliant on Sejanus, as well as satisfying his greed (since the emperor could confiscate the majority of the accused's property after their execution or suicide); they also allowed Sejanus to eliminate potential rivals.

One development that favored Sejanus was the concentration of all nine cohorts of the Praetorian Guard into a single camp at Rome. Augustus had billeted these troops discreetly in small towns around Rome, but now Tiberius — undoubtedly with Sejanus's encouragement — brought them into the city, probably in 17 or 18. Sejanus, therefore, as Praetorian Prefect, commanded some 9,000 troops within the city limits. As Sejanus's public profile became more and more pronounced, his statues were erected in public places, and, according to Tacitus, Tiberius openly praised him as "the partner of my labors". But Sejanus had his own ideas. He had used his influence over Tiberius to undermine the Emperor's relationship with his son Drusus. Secretly he seduced Livilla, Drusus' wife. And then, in September of 23 Drusus died. The death of Tiberius' son meant that the succession was thrown into doubt.

Sejanus’s attacks against Agrippina and his proposal to marry Drusus's widow, Livilla, who was also Tiberius' niece, suggest that he was attempting to follow the precedent of Agrippa, that is, an outsider who became the emperor's effective heir through a combination of overt loyalty, necessity, and a family alliance forged by marriage. Tiberius, perhaps sensitive to this ambition, rejected Sejanus's initial proposal to marry Livilla in 25, but later put it about that he had withdrawn his objections so that, in 30, the betrothal went ahead. The Prefect's family connection to the Imperial house was now imminent.

Just kidding none of this ever happened:)!


Rome's second Emperor died at the port town of Misenum on March 16, 37, at the age of seventy-eight. Later writers suggested that he was smothered at the behest of Caligula (who was never really sure if he was the official heir), though such accusations were usually made to Caligula's credit, rather than his detriment. Regardless, Tiberius was old and in poor health at his death. His complete unpopularity is proven by the failure of the Senate to vote him divine honours. Tacitus, Dio Cassius and Suetonius certainly paint a bleak picture of Tiberius and his reign. According to Suetonius: "the people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting, "To the Tiber with Tiberius!," (a form of punishment reserved for criminals) while others prayed to Mother Earth and the Manes to "allow the dead man no abode except among the damned."

In his will, Tiberius left the empire to both Caligula and Tiberius Gemellus, but soon after becoming Emperor, Caligula had Tiberius's will declared void and later had Gemellus killed.

The last years of Tiberius' reign, such as described by ancient historians, are little more than a catalogue of treason trials, suicides and executions. Yet the picture is one-sided, for these shocking events affected primarily the upper classes in Rome. Elsewhere in the Roman world the quality of government was generally good compared to previous centuries. In a reign of 23 years, Tiberius' rule, despite all its faults, proved a successful continuation of Augustus'.


In the Bible, Tiberius is mentioned by name only once, in Luke 3:1, stating that John the Baptist entered on his public ministry in the fifteenth year of his reign. However, since it was during his reign that Jesus preached, many references to Caesar (or the emperor in some other translations), without further specification, actually refer to Tiberius. It was during the reign of Tiberius that Jesus was put to death by crucifixion under the authority of the Roman governor of Judea at the time, Pontius Pilate.

Similarly, the "Tribute Penny" referred to in Matthew 22:19 and Mark 12:15 is popularly thought to be a silver denarius coin of Tiberius, although this association, like others, has been based only on the emperor's reign coinciding with the ministry of Jesus, since the title of Caesar on coinage was very ambiguous at the time.

The town Tiberias on the western shore of the SeaGalilee was named in Tiberius's honour by Herod Antipas.

On August 12, 1956 skin-diver Raimondo Bucher reported that he had discovered the grotto in which Tiberius swam with members of his court after he retired to Capri. Bucher accessed the high-vaulted grotto, adjoining the world-renowned Blue Grotto, via an underwater tunnel. He said the remains of steps and other improvements were discovered dating to Roman times.

The Blue Grotto was long considered to be the locale where d-.-b owned

Tiberius has appeared in the movies Ben-Hur (played by George Relph), Caligula (played by Peter O'Toole), The Robe (played by Ernest Thesiger), and I, Claudius (played by George Baker). He also appeared the 1968 British television series The Caesars (played by André Morell) and the 2003 Italian/British mini series Imperium: Augustus (played by Michele Bevilacqua).

External linksEdit

Primary sourcesEdit

Suetonius. The Lives of the twelve Caesars: TIberius

Secondary materialEdit

  • V.Ehrenberg & A.H.M.Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, 2nd ed. Oxford 1955
  • New York Times, Capri Grotto Found, Skin-Diver Links Discovery to Emperor Tiberius, August 13, 1956, Page 21.
  • Robin Seager, Tiberius, London (Eyre Methuen) 1972
  • Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford (Clarendon Press) 1986

Biographical sketchesEdit

Other materialEdit

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