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Claudian statue of Tiberius, found 1796 in Priverno ( Vatican Museums )
Portrait sculpture of Tiberius (Museum Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek )

Tiberius Iulius Caesar Augustus (before the adoption by Augustus : Tiberius Claudius Nero ; born November 16, 42 BC in Rome ; †  March 16,  37 AD at Cape Misenum ) was Roman Emperor from AD 14 to 37 After his stepfather Augustus, Tiberius was the second emperor of the Roman Empire and, like him, belongs to the Julio-Claudian dynasty . His reign was one of the longest sole rule by a Roman emperor.

Tiberius was able to achieve significant military successes, especially before he came to power. His military activities in Pannonia , Illyricum , Raetia and Germania established the northern border of the Roman Empire. The emperor was successful in the administration of the provinces and finances. Palace intrigues, the conspiracy of the ambitious Seianus , executions of dissident Roman aristocrats and Tiberius' withdrawal from the capital caused the negative value judgment of the later ancient historiographers . Towards the end of his life, the conflict of interests between the Senate , which was reduced in its political function, and the now institutionalized office of the emperor became clear for the first time.

Life until the assumption of power

Origin and youth

Family tree of Tiberius

Tiberius came from the patrician family of the Claudians . His parents were Tiberius Claudius Nero , praetor 42 BC. Chr., And Livia Drusilla , whose Claudian branch of the family had passed through adoption into the plebeian family of the Livians . In the year 41 BC His parents fled with him to Sicily and Greece to avoid the proscriptions , since his father, as a staunch republican and supporter of the Caesar murderers, supported Lucius Antonius and had thus opposed Octavian. After her return in 39 BC, Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus, forced BC Livia's divorce from the elder Tiberius Claudius Nero in order to be able to marry her herself. Three months after the marriage on January 17, 38 BC. BC Livia gave birth to Tiberius' brother Drusus , whose biological father, however, was Tiberius Claudius Nero. Since Octavian handed the newborn over to his father, the young Tiberius is likely to have been with his father at this time and not with his mother and stepfather Octavian. Suetonius reports that after his return to Rome, Tiberius was adopted in his will by a senator Marcus Gallius, who did not use his name because Gallius was considered an opponent of Octavian. After the death of his father, probably in 33 BC. BC, the nine-year-old Tiberius gave him the funeral oration, which positioned him in the public life of the Roman aristocracy, and then came together with his brother into the tutelage of his stepfather. Drusus was preferred by Octavian to his older brother.

Tiberius was introduced to political life at a young age. From 13 to 15 August 29 BC He was included in Octavian's triumphal procession for the victory at Actium . As early as 23 BC As quaestor with responsibility for grain supply, he was given the first political office and thus senatorial status, well before the required minimum age of 25 years.

First military experience

Tiberius undertook several successful campaigns under the rule of Augustus. Already in the years 26–24 BC He took part in the battles of Augustus in Spain as a military tribune . In the year 20 BC He led a campaign against the Armenian kingdom , through which he Tigranes III. brought to the Armenian throne. In the same year he regained the Roman standards through diplomacy, which Marcus Licinius Crassus , Lucius Decidius Saxa and Marcus Antonius had lost to the Parthians in partly devastating defeats . In 16 BC He was praetor and prepared together with Augustus in Gaul the reorganization of the province.

Together with his younger brother Drusus, Tiberius brought about in the years 15-13 BC. BC Raetia and Vindelicia to the north under Roman rule. From 12 to 9 BC He led the conquest of Pannonia . He transferred 9 BC The corpse of his brother Drusus, who had died as a result of a riding accident, moved from Germania to Rome and, as his successor, received the supreme command in Germania for the next two years. The following year he successfully completed the Drusus campaigns started by his brother . In order to reduce the Germanic pressure on the Middle Rhine, around 40,000 Sugambrers and Suebi were relocated to the area on the left bank of the Rhine under his authority .

Succession problem

Tiberius was from 16 to 12 BC Married to Vipsania Agrippina , daughter of Octavian's close confidante and general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa . From this marriage his came to 15 BC. Born son Tiberius Drusus Iulius Caesar (also "the younger Drusus"). In the year 12 BC On the orders of his stepfather, Tiberius had to divorce Vipsania Agrippina and marry his stepsister Iulia , the daughter of Augustus. This connection should strengthen the unity of the ruling house. Iulia is more likely to have wanted her children to follow suit. Also, after three forced marriages imposed on her by Augustus, she felt drawn to a dissolute life, so that the marriage was not a happy one for Tiberius, who was considered shy of people, in contrast to his first marriage. After Tiberius as early as 13 BC. He became consul in 6 BC. The tribunicia potestas for five years; thus he could be regarded as the successor of the Princeps, since he was also the son-in-law of Augustus.

The rapidly broken marriage and the conspicuous promotion of the sons Iulias, Gaius and Lucius Caesar , who had been adopted by Augustus , caused Tiberius to interrupt his career and to retreat to Rhodes for seven years in what was initially a voluntary exile . Tiberius himself is said to have declared later that he had withdrawn so as not to stand in the way of the Caesares. Tiberius probably felt himself neglected in his own dignitas because of the popularity of Gaius Caesar and his preference .

Since the island of Rhodes was on the Roman main trading line, Tiberius is by no means excluded from political life. During his stay in Rhodes Augustus sent 2 BC. His daughter Julia was exiled because of her lifestyle and political intrigues. Tiberius campaigned in vain for his wife in several letters, but at the instigation of Augustus finally divorced her. In the year 2 AD Augustus approved the return of Tiberius to Rome, but initially granted him no political function.

It was not until the successive deaths of Augustus' designated successors, his grandchildren and adopted sons Gaius and Lucius Caesar (4 and 2 AD respectively), that Tiberius became the only possible successor. With the adoption by Augustus on June 26, 4 AD, Tiberius (with the name Tiberius Iulius Caesar ) was accepted into the Julier family. The subsequent emperors up to Nero belonged to different degrees to both families and were thus members of a double dynasty. In addition to Tiberius, Augustus adopted Agrippa Postumus , who was later sent into exile. Tiberius himself had to adopt Germanicus , the son of his brother Drusus. In addition, he received the two official powers that entitle him to succession, the imperium proconsulare maius and the tribunicia potestas .

Army leaders in Germania and the Balkans

Tiberius took over again the supreme command in Germania in 4 AD in the course of the immensum bellum and in the following year he moved from Gaul to the mouth of the Rhine ( Rhenus ). In his retinue was the historian Velleius Paterculus , who held the position of praefectus equitum . Tiberius penetrated as far as the Weser ( Visurgis ) and set up a winter camp at the sources of the Lippe ( Lippia ). This was the first time that a large Roman army wintered in Germania. In the spring of 5 AD he defeated the Lombards on the Lower Elbe together with the Roman fleet . He then moved further up the Elbe and reached the Middle Elbe ( Fluvius Albis ) to the Semnones and finally to the Hermundurs , where he set up camp and received Germanic ambassadors. The campaign participant Velleius Paterculus described the situation at this time as follows: "Nothing remained in Germania that could have been defeated, except the tribe of the Marcomanni ".

The young Tiberius, Louvre

In the year 6 Tiberius armored against Marbod , the king of the Marcomanni. A total of twelve legions with auxiliary troops were set up, which represented half of the total military potential of the Romans at the time. Shortly after the campaign began in the spring of 6, Tiberius broke it off again when he received news of the Pannonian uprising . However, Tiberius concluded a friendship treaty with Marbod in order to concentrate fully on the difficult task in Pannonia.

From 6 to 9 AD he put down the rebellion in Pannonia and Illyria with the greatest effort, with the deployment of an army of 15 legions . Shortly after the victory, Augustus received the news that Varus had fallen in Germania with three legions and as many cavalry detachments and six cohorts. This loss was one of the greatest defeats the Roman Empire ever suffered; serious expansion efforts to Germania were not undertaken in the following centuries. There were three days of state mourning in Rome , and Tiberius, who had just returned home victorious, renounced a triumph .

After the shameful defeat of Varus, Tiberius was given the imperium proconsulare again due to his great military experience in Germania . In the first year of his military command in 10 AD, he refrained from crossing the Rhine. According to Suetonius, Tiberius acted with the utmost caution and restraint and only in consultation with his group of advisors, which may indicate that Tiberius initially did not plan to recapture the area between the Elbe and the Rhine, but wanted to limit himself to punitive expeditions. With regard to subsequent military successes, the sources are inconsistent. Velleius Paterculus, who generally glorifies the achievements of Tiberius, reports that Tiberius crossed the Rhine and successfully advanced deep into the interior to pillage Germanic settlements and devastate fields. According to Cassius Dio , who wrote his historical work at the beginning of the 3rd century, there were no noteworthy military conflicts. Archaeological investigations have so far not been able to detect any traces of military routes or signs of charcoal layers that one would expect if settlements were burned down over a large area.

At the beginning of 13 AD Tiberius returned to Rome and held the postponed triumph for the suppression of the Pannonian uprising. His official powers, the tribunicia potestas and the imperium proconsulare maius , were extended for a further ten years. When Augustus died on August 19, 14, Tiberius thus held all the rights on which the principate was based.

The Principate of Tiberius

Taking office

Tiberius bust, Hermitage

With the death of Augustus, 55-year-old Tiberius was practically designated as his successor. His military experience also made him seem unrivaled. On September 18, 14 AD, he summoned the Senate to resolve the funeral service and divinization for Augustus. The private will of Augustus was opened at this Senate meeting. Tiberius and Livia were appointed as the main heirs, with Tiberius receiving two thirds and Livia one third of the inheritance. Livia was adopted by will and made Iulia Augusta . Livia, who had already appeared publicly as a partner in the principate under Augustus and was portrayed as such in official propaganda - for example on coins - was thus able to exert the greatest influence in her new position as imperial mother. Until her death in 29, she managed in this role to control the increasing hostility within the imperial family, especially in view of the question of succession. However, there was competition between the domineering mother and son.

Despite the unambiguous will of Augustus, Tiberius demonstratively waited for the Senate's express request to accept the imperial dignity. This hesitant attitude ( recusatio imperii ) can be explained by the fact that Tiberius was generally regarded as a reserved person; It is more likely, however, that he consciously sought the support and binding commitment of the Senate to his person in order to strengthen his position as a formerly controversial successor candidate. Such a rather tactically motivated reserve is also reflected in the fact that Tiberius often expressed thoughts of resignation in later years. In addition, Tiberius accepted the honorary surname Augustus , but he rejected the title pater patriae conferred on Augustus . Not until March 10, 15 did he hold the office of pontifex maximus . Since this was the historically first transfer of official powers personally conferred on Augustus, it had not yet been finally decided that the institution of the principate should become a permanent one. However, the Senate accepted the emperor's position without contradiction and increasingly submitted to his authority.

Agrippa Postumus was murdered immediately at the beginning of the imperial rule of Tiberius . Already in antiquity it was speculated whether Tiberius was responsible for the murder, whether Augustus had ordered Agrippa Postumus to be removed after his death, or whether Livia wanted to secure rule for her son. Tacitus suggests that Tiberius was complicit. However, Tiberius denied responsibility for the murder. As recently as AD 14, Tiberius tried the Cappadocian king Archelaus , from whom he did not feel he was given enough attention during the difficult time in Rhodes.

Mutiny of the legions and the Martian campaign

Immediately after Tiberius came to power there was a mutiny of the legions stationed in Pannonia and Germania. The reasons for the uprising were the harshness of the service, the length of the service period and the low pay. These grievances went back to the politics of the late Augustus and his severe reactions to the Pannonian uprising and the Varus defeat. While Tiberius' son Drusus was able to calm the situation in Pannonia without major complications, Germanicus initially had great difficulty in regaining control of the legions under his control in Germania, which wanted to proclaim him the new Princeps instead of Tiberius. The Legio XIV Gemina refused to take the oath of allegiance, and in a summer camp the four legions of the Lower Germanic Army, which had been contracted together, followed suit. Germanicus remained loyal to Tiberius and refused to comply with demands aimed at a coup. Finally, he ended the mutiny with numerous concessions in the name of the princeps, but without having previously insured himself with Tiberius. So he promised accelerated layoffs and money gifts to the soldiers. In order to prevent a possible resurgence of the mutiny and at the same time to carry out a punitive expedition for the Varus defeat, he initiated a campaign against the Martians in the autumn of 14 . In this campaign his legions suffered little losses.

Tiberius reacted ambivalent. On the one hand, he viewed the victory over the Martians as a success, because Germanicus had succeeded in disciplining the army. On the other hand, he rejected the unauthorized action of Germanicus, especially since his newly gained fame weakened Tiberius' position in the army.

Termination of expansion on the Rhine and Danube

Under Augustus and at the beginning of the rule of Tiberius, Rome wanted to correct the clades Variana , or at least formally subjugate the rebellious Germanic tribes and punish the deserters, if only to deter future rebels. However, these goals were not achieved. The Romans were lucky that the other fronts remained calm during this time, because the Roman army was not big enough to keep eight legions ready on the Germanic front for long . The Varus catastrophe that took place in 13 BC He had held the consulate together with Tiberius, and the problem of the military revolts discovered by Germanicus in the year 14 caused Tiberius to finally refrain from moving the border towards the Weser and Elbe . In contrast to Germanicus, Tiberius, who had no illusions about Germania, switched to a defensive border policy that left the Teutons to their internal strife and was limited to the assertion of an area upstream of the border. Tiberius recognized that Rome could not defeat the Germanic Arminius coalition simply because of the logistical and topographical conditions without a considerable increase in funds. The Roman troops could not feed themselves out of the country during an advance, and the land warfare faced almost insurmountable difficulties and risks due to the long distances and transports during the short campaign times.

Tiberius put a stop to the partly loss-making undertakings of Germanicus in the years 15 and 16 and called him back to Rome. He allegedly referred to the advice of Augustus to leave the empire within its current limits (consilium coercendi intra terminos imperii) . The historicity of the consilium coercendi is, however, questioned in modern research, among other things because the official representation of Augustus to the Senate in the Res Gestae Divi Augusti seems to exclude such a wide scope for decision-making by the emperor. It is also uncertain whether by intra-terminos the western or eastern border of the empire is meant and whether in the former case it is the Elbe border or the Rhine border.

Tiberius granted the Germanicus an elaborate triumph over the Teutons, which the latter held on May 26, 17 in Rome. Tiberius wanted on the one hand to give Germanicus a solemn recognition of his overall achievements, on the other hand to represent the de facto termination of the offensive as a foreign policy success. Paradoxically, the catastrophe of the Varus Battle proved the stability of the Roman border on the Rhine , for the sake of which the conquest of Germania had begun. With the recall of Germanicus (16 AD), the new foreign policy line of Tiberius prevailed, which was to be reflected in the Tabula Siarensis (19 AD): pacification of Gaul, retribution for the Varus defeat, recovery of the standard , but no longer the conquest of Germania on the right bank of the Rhine. This policy came to an end with the death of Tiberius (37 AD), his successor Caligula again undertook (unsuccessful) expeditions into the Germanic core area.

Orient trip and death of Germanicus

After his triumph, Germanicus traveled to the east of the empire on behalf of Tiberius in order to regulate the political situation from the Roman point of view. Cappadocia became a Roman province. Germanicus was given a special empire that was above that of all other proconsuls, but below that of Tiberius. Via Greece and Asia Minor he got to Syria, from there to Egypt, to the great displeasure of Tiberius, since no senator was allowed to enter the province of Aegyptus , which was important for the grain supply of Rome and which was considered the personal property of the emperor. After returning to Syria, Germanicus fell ill in Antioch and died there in the year 19. Many rumors quickly arose about how Germanicus' death had come about.

The enthroned Tiberius receives the victorious Germanicus, so-called Grand Camée de France , Cabinet des Médailles, Paris

Due to a competitive relationship with Germanicus, the governor of the province of Syria , Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso , was accused of having poisoned Germanicus. Accusations of poisoning were frequent in imperial Rome and ultimately undetectable because of the limited investigation methods. Sentius Saturninus accused Martina, a friend of Piso's wife, of poisoning Germanicus. Due to the sending of Germanicus and the appointment of Pisus, a conspiracy was suspected in Rome, since Tiberius and Livia in particular were interested in eliminating the popular Germanicus in order to secure the succession of Tiberius' son Drusus. At first Tiberius was reluctant, whereupon his critics spread rumors that he had received the news of Germanicus' death with joy and satisfaction. Therefore Tiberius had a statement published in which he explained that many illustrious Romans had died for the state; these are mortal, only the community is eternal (principes mortales - rem publicam aeternam) . However, the rumors and demands for the guilty to be punished did not subside, especially because Martina, who was accused of being a “poisoner”, died of poison in Brundisium on her way from Syria to Rome and the poison was found in her hair.

In view of these circumstantial evidence, also with a view to the rumors about his own presumed motive (his son Drusus had become the undisputed successor with Germanicus' death), Tiberius finally saw himself compelled to file charges against Piso. In this process, Tiberius urged the senators to be impartial. However, Piso found no support from the Senate or from his closest friends and was found dead before the end of the trial. The circumstances are unclear. The details of the process that were previously only known in literary terms have been supplemented by an inscription find around 1990. The inscription plaque found in Spain contains a Senate decision following the Piso trial. The accusation of poisoning is indicated in the Senate resolution; however, the official charge against Piso was armed rebellion. Tiberius' appeal to his sense of justice ( aequitas ) is clearly emphasized. Copies of the Senate resolution were placed in all legionary camps and provincial capitals of the empire.

Rome and Italy

At the beginning of his government, Tiberius tried to establish legitimacy and a good relationship with the senate and the knighthood , whose privileges (wearing the gold ring, preferred seats at games) were preserved. He gave the Senate the right to vote for office holders, which until then had been nominally exercised by the Roman citizens, but under Augustus had actually become a privilege of the emperor. Tiberius also avoided only dealing with the Senate committee, with which Augustus had previously negotiated instead of the entire committee. The attempt to give the Senate plenary greater decision-making options instead failed because of the imbalance of power and the struggle between the various groups for influence, especially on the question of succession. Parties formed against individual members of the imperial family or other influential personalities, such as Seianus , which led to mutual subordination and hostility. Already in the year 16 Libo Drusus , a great-grandson of Pompey , was suspected of a conspiracy against the imperial family and forced to commit suicide. In the same year Tiberius had the slave Clemens , who had pretended to be Agrippa Postumus and had gathered a considerable number of followers in Italy, eliminated.

Tiberius continued Augustus' conservative course in religious policy. He had magicians and astrologers expelled from Italy in 16, although he is said to have practiced astrology himself and often consulted the philosopher and astrologer Thrasyllos , with whom he was friends, when making decisions . Furthermore, Tiberius cracked down on the cult of Isis and Judaism in 19 after allegedly religious unrest and disturbances of public order. 4,000 Jewish freedmen were brought to Sardinia to be used militarily against Sardinian robbers. The rest of the Jews were forced to renounce their beliefs or to leave Italy. However, Tiberius did not succeed in preventing the Jewish faith in Rome and Italy in the long term.

Provinces and Client States

Tiberius was successful in administering the empire. He continued the conservative course taken by Augustus at the end of his reign, aimed at the preservation of the existing. Tiberius, like Augustus, invoked the virtues of rulership virtus , clementia , iustitia and pietas (“excellence”, “mildness”, “justice” and “deference”). However, the propaganda in inscriptions and on coins was also characterized by catchphrases such as salus and moderatio (“well-being” and “restraint”), which as models of his government reflect modern administrative goals, such as a balanced, decentralized economic policy.

Lieutenants were kept in their respective posts well beyond the usual one-year term, which resulted in greater continuity in the provincial administration. For example, Lucius Aelius Lamia was governor of Syria for nine years. He administered the province from Rome.

In addition to Cappadocia, which was annexed in 17, Kommagene temporarily became a Roman province until it was finally incorporated into the empire under Vespasian . In addition, the Numid Tacfarinas , who had deserted from a Roman auxiliary force, caused uproar in the African part of the Roman Empire since the same year . Although he was defeated by Roman troops in open combat, the insurgents recovered and from then on waged devastating small wars against the Roman occupying power. Tiberius rejected requests and negotiations under the leadership of the Tacfarinas for land for himself and his army. Instead, he sent another legion, the Legio IX Hispana , to Africa with orders to destroy Tacfarinas. It was not until seven years after they began that the revolts led by Tacfarinas under Publius Cornelius Dolabella could finally be put down. Tacfarinas was killed in action and his son was captured.

The food supply, the tax burden and the arrogance and cruelty of the Roman governors caused unrest in Gaul , which led to the revolt of the Häduers Iulius Sacrovir and the Treverians Iulius Florus in the year 21. However, this uprising was crushed in no time. In years 22-25, rebellious Thracian tribes were fought with success. Tiberius' military strategic reluctance is remarkable, because with the exception of the campaigns against insurgents there were no major military actions during his rule.

In Armenia , where Roman and Parthian interests crossed, Artaxias III. around the year 18 a new king was installed. Rome wanted to keep the Parthians in a constant threatening situation in order to deprive them of the incentive to invade Asia Minor , Syria or Palestine , which succeeded until the death of Artaxias in the year 34 or 35. Only in the ensuing question of succession was the Parthian King Artabanos II supposed to put his son Arsaces on the Armenian throne and demand that the Romans cede territory in Asia Minor. Thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Lucius Vitellius , governor of Syria, a loss of territory could be averted. Lucius Vitellius intervened in the Parthian throne turmoil in the years 35/36 and was able to manage Tiridates III. temporarily appointed as King of the Parthians.

Budget and Financial Policy

Aureus of Tiberius

The budget policy of Tiberius was characterized by a rigorous austerity program, in which no major construction projects were planned. A few exceptions were temples used to demonstrate the pietas and the construction of roads for military purposes in North Africa, Spain, Gaul, Dalmatia and Moesia .

Tiberius' thrift and his departure from luxury had already shown in the Senate resolution of the year 16 against the luxury of clothing, which forbade the wearing of see-through silk robes, as well as in a law from the year 22, which was directed against the luxury of the table. Tiberius refrained from increasing his popularity through elaborate games, and was generally disinterested in games towards the Roman citizens.

However, he was more generous in times of great emergency than almost any other politician before him. Tiberius donated millions of sesterces during the major fires in the city of Rome in the years 27 and 36 and during a flood of the Tiber , which also occurred in 36, as well as during grain price increases . The provinces also felt his generosity in emergency situations: When an earthquake in 17 AD destroyed twelve Asian cities, including Sardis , he donated ten million sesterces and granted a five-year tax exemption. This care of Tiberius was proclaimed in the coinage civitatibus Asiae restitutis ("for the reconstruction of the cities of Asia").

From his retirement home on Capri , Tiberius intervened in a financial crisis in Rome in 33, which, against the background of his restrictive monetary policy, had been triggered by illegal interest rate hikes by moneylenders, who at the same time granted fewer and fewer loans. Since the Senate could not cope with the financial crisis with its own means, Tiberius made 100 million sesterces available to credit intermediaries to grant interest-free loans for three years, on the condition that their debtors had to transfer properties of twice the value to the Roman state as collateral . The financial crisis could thus be resolved.

Due to Tiberius' rigorous austerity measures, his successor Caligula found 2.7 billion sesterces in the state treasury, which the latter quickly wasted. Tiberius was also able to derive financial gain from the fact that senators convicted of crimes against majesty had to cede their inheritance to the emperor.

Trials of majesty

The charges of lese majesty , which were still rare under Augustus , increased noticeably. On the basis of the lex Iulia de maiestate , which was introduced by Augustus , not only threats to life but also abuse of the person of the princeps could be punished. In the years 14-20, Tiberius initially opposed the persecution of such abuse.

The first trials approved by Tiberius were presumably largely initiated by the Senate, to which part of the judiciary was institutionally subject. Since the year 24, majesty trials have been initiated more frequently, although Tiberius did not tighten the law of majesty. In total there were about 60 majesty trials under his rule. Their number had increased so sharply because the vague legal term laesa maiestas was interpreted so broadly that even carrying an imperial coin on the sanitary toilet or in the brothel could become the subject of a charge. It was more likely one of many counts in a series of offenses charged with each. Particularly dissident literary allusions could be severely punished. The historian Cremutius Cordus was forced to take his own life by refusing to eat, as he was accused of having dealt favorably with the Caesar murderers Brutus and Cassius in his historical work . He had vowed Brutus and is said to have called Cassius the "last Roman". Most copies of the work were burned by resolution of the Senate, but it was later reissued. After Gaius Asinius Gallus , the husband of Tiberius' first wife Vipsania Agrippina , after the fall of Agrippina the Elder said Sejanus had turned, he was imprisoned in the year 30 and also killed by starvation after three years.

Tacitus describes the majesty trials as the arbitrary action of a tyrant , and this interpretation has been largely adopted, especially in older research. The more recent research, however, has increasingly relativized it, since the representation of Tacitus unilaterally emphasizes the institutional responsibility of the princeps and downplays the internal intrigues of senatorial families with regard to his senatorial audience. The phenomenon of senatorial denunciation emerged for the first time , which was to put a considerable strain on the relationship between the emperor and the senate by the end of the 1st century. The position of the princeps, which had been created by Augustus shortly before, was institutionally not yet so firmly established that Tiberius could have pushed through a repressive policy entirely without the support of at least part of the Senate. Only the later submissiveness of the Senate made the autocratic rule of a Caligula , Nero or Domitian possible .

The rise and fall of Seianus

On the occasion of the early death of Germanicus, the designated successor to Tiberius, in 19 the question of succession arose again. The relationship between Tiberius and Germanicus 'widow Agrippina the Elder was strained because, as Augustus' granddaughter, she saw her sons as potential successors to Tiberius.

During this time the influence of the Praetorian prefect Lucius Aelius Seianus began to grow. He built the Praetorian Guard under his command into a personal power factor by stationing them in a single camp, the Castra praetoria , on the Viminal in front of the city ​​wall . According to Tacitus, Tiberius has trusted Seianus blindly since he threw himself protectively over Tiberius when a cave collapsed. The image of Seianus in Tacitus is, as in Suetonius, extremely negative and is in contrast to the positive characterization of Seianus by his contemporary Velleius Paterculus, who wrote in AD 30.

Seianus probably planned to become the successor of Princeps Tiberius himself by systematically eliminating the natural heirs of Tiberius and marrying him into his family. He allegedly induced Livilla , the wife of Tiberius' son Drusus , to commit adultery. In the year 23 the heir to the throne, Drusus, died of an illness, it was widely believed. In the year 31, Apicata, the rejected wife of Seianus, testified that Drusus had allowed Drusus to be poisoned by subjugating Drusus' favorite eunuch, Eudamus, and commissioning the administration of the poison, as reported by some contemporary authors. Apicata was put under great pressure with this statement, because she had to fear not only for her own life, but also for that of her children. In research, the involvement of Seianus in the death of Drusus and occasionally the relationship to Livilla is doubted.

Seianus tried to marry Livilla in the year 25, which would have made him a member of the imperial family. However, Tiberius refused the marriage out of consideration for reservations in the imperial family, who felt a marriage with the equestrian Seianus as inappropriate.

Marble statue of Tiberius, found on Capri, now in the Louvre

After his marriage plans were thwarted, Seianus Tiberius made public speeches about the advantages of rural life outside the capital. The Princeps hated the presence in Rome with its intrigues and quarrels between his family members, especially the problematic relationships with his mother Livia and Agrippina, the widow of Germanicus. In addition, there was fear for his personal safety and human-shy behavior. As early as the year 22 he had repeatedly stayed in Campania and awarded Drusus the tribunicia potestas . Seianus had a decided interest in the emperor's withdrawal, as it enabled him - practically in a deputy function - to prepare for the takeover of power. In the year 26, Tiberius actually retreated to the remote island of Capri . From now on, Seianus controlled access to Tiberius, as his Praetorians were responsible for the transmission of the imperial correspondence.

In the end, Seianus openly expressed his claim to the throne by declaring his birthday a Roman holiday and having himself publicly honored by setting up statues with his likeness. In doing so, he equated the cult around himself with that of the emperor.

In line with the interests of Tiberius, Seianus was probably instrumental in intrigues against Agrippina and her partisans. Allegedly he had her eldest son and successor candidate Nero Caesar spied on and misled into rash statements against Tiberius through intermediaries. As a result, Nero and Agrippina were banished to the island of Pandataria in 29 , where both were forced to die. Her second son, Drusus Caesar, starved to death in prison a year later . However, some researchers see the involvement of the Seianus in the not exactly known allegations against the family of the Germanicus as at best minor.

Antonia Minor , the widow of Tiberius' brother Drusus, finally denounced Seianus to Tiberius with the charge that Tiberius wanted to get rid of Gaius, the later Emperor Caligula , in order to position himself as the only successor. In response, Tiberius had a letter sent from Capri to the Senate in 31, in which he put Seianus, who had recently been appointed consul, into the belief that this letter contained the transfer of official powers to him. The letter read in the presence of the Seianus began with his merit, but ended with reproaches and the condemnation of the Seianus. Seianus was arrested and strangled to death along with his children. His corpse was thrown on the Gemonische Staircase , there dismembered by the mob and then dragged on a hook to the Tiber , since according to the ancient Roman concept of the afterlife, the dead floating in the sea were denied access to the underworld . It is unclear whether Seianus actually planned the murder of Caligula or fell victim to a court intrigue or his own claims to power, which brought him envy and resentment. In the years 31 to 37, numerous senators and knights were suspected of having supported the plans of Seianus, executed or forced to commit suicide. In the sixth book of the annals, Tacitus describes an atmosphere full of terror and intrigue, in which it was unclear "whether it was more lamentable to be accused of friendship or to accuse the friend himself".

The successor of Seianus as Praetorian prefect was Naevius Sutorius Macro .

The last few years

Age seat on Capri

Ruin of the Villa Jovis of Tiberius on Capri

The ancient historiographers ( Cassius Dio , Suetonius and Tacitus ) portrayed the emperor in the last years of his life as an unsightly old man, disfigured by skin ulcers, who indulges in pedophiles and sadistic inclinations on Capri and shuns the public. In particular, the imperial biographer Suetonius characterized Tiberius in great detail in this regard, but served the expectation of a senatorial audience in the early 2nd century. Tiberius is said to have abused male minors in the imperial thermal pools for homosexual underwater fellatio and in this context called his "little fish". Allegedly, the later emperor Vitellius was also sexually abused by Tiberius for this purpose.

Modern research is moving away from these generally stereotypical forms of transmission, which can be justified by the fact that at the end of the reign of Tiberius, the political impotence and loss of authority of the Senate first came to light. This was expressed in the ongoing majesty trials and in the lack of opportunity to influence decisions in distant Capri. According to ancient understanding, it was customary in biographical treatises to bring the general political direction of an emperor with his or her character and private interests in close, sometimes fictitious, connection. The residence of Tiberius on Capri, the Villa Jovis , has been preserved as a ruin. It was basically designed to do government business, but was no longer inhabited by any later emperor.

Death in Misenum, burial in Rome

The entrance to the Augustus mausoleum. The ashes of Tiberius were buried here.

When Tiberius died on March 16, 37 in Misenum on the Gulf of Naples at the age of 77, he had made himself unpopular not only with the Senate, but also with the city-Roman citizens, who threw his corpse into the Tiber like a criminal (Tiberium in Tiberim) or in the theater of Atella . The hostility in the population resulted from the numerous executions of the last years of the government, which killed several hundred citizens of the capital every year. Their corpses were displayed on the Gemonian Stairs as a deterrent. In the public presentation, this policy was justified with the need to fight crime and the need to contain immoral behavior.

Tiberius' body was escorted to Rome and publicly cremated. His ashes were buried in the Augustus mausoleum . At first there was no divinization . However, in the Lex de imperio Vespasiani of 69 , Tiberius was counted among the emperors whose government decisions were still valid. The full name of Tiberius at the time of his death was usually Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius Augustus, Pontifex maximus, Tribunicia potestate XXXVIII, Imperator VIII, Consul V ("Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Augustus, highest priest, 38th year holder of the tribunician power, eight times the Emperor proclaimed, five times consul ").

Rumors about the successor

It is recorded that Tiberius was undecided about the succession plan. Tiberius did not dare to look for a successor outside his family so as not to violate the dynastic principle associated with Augustus' authority. Only Germanicus' son Gaius, who later became Emperor Caligula , or Tiberius Gemellus , grandson of Tiberius, remained as candidates. In the year 31 Tiberius had Gaius come to Capri. There Gaius evidently succeeded in gaining the emperor's trust. Suetonius states that this relationship of trust was based on a shared interest in torture and sexual debauchery. Tiberius is said to have said to Gaius: "You will murder this [Gemellus], yourself another." In fact, shortly after he had become emperor, Caligula had Tiberius Gemellus killed at the end of the year 37 or the beginning of the year 38 because he was suspected of having to have exploited a serious illness of Caligula to conspire against him. Tiberius himself may also have been killed by Gaius, although the sources are inconclusive and unexplained deaths of rulers often resulted in unconfirmed murder rumors. It has also been speculated that the Praetorian prefect Macro brought about the death of Tiberius.


Crucifixion event

In honor of the emperor, the city of Tiberias on the west coast of the Sea of ​​Galilee got its name from the tetrarch Herod Antipas . During Tiberius' reign, Jesus of Nazareth worked in the region . In his sermons and parables there are multiple references to Caesar (or the emperor in some translations), but without mentioning the name Tiberius, as is probably the case with the tax coin in the Gospels of Matthew ( Mt 22.19  EU ) and Mark ( Mk 12.15  EU ). In the New Testament Tiberius is mentioned by name only once, in the Gospel of Luke ( Lk 3, 1–2  EU ) in the context of the so-called Lukan date , which refers to the year 28 and is the only one that allows a reliable dating of the New Testament events:

“It was the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius; Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea , Herod Tetrarch of Galilee […] High priests were Annas and Kajaphas . The word of God came to John, son of Zacharias , in the desert . "

In the era of Tiberius, the crucifixion of Jesus (probably in the year 30), who was executed as a rebel by Pontius Pilate, did not attract special attention in Rome, nor any major uprising. Judea was considered a relatively quiet region at the time. The Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea claimed three hundred years later that the Senate formally rejected the recognition of the Christian god by the Roman state, but that Tiberius himself had not considered persecution against Christians, which favored the spread of early Christianity. However, this statement is undoubtedly anachronistic , since Christianity was still a sect within Judaism at the time of Tiberius and the Jewish God was already recognized by Rome at that time.

Even Tacitus does not mention Christ in his description of Tiberius' reign in the first six, largely preserved books of the Annals . The crucifixion of Jesus is only mentioned in passing by Tacitus when he comments on the execution of Christians in Rome under Emperor Nero :

"The namesake of the sect, Christ, was executed under Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate."


Compared to the rulers Caesar or Nero, for example, Tiberius was only relatively rarely the subject of artistic treatment. Gerhart Hauptmann wrote the drama Das Erbe des Tiberius in Rome in 1884 , Julius Grosse wrote a drama called Tiberius in 1876 . Numerous historical novels since Franz Horn deal with the second emperor, even if in many cases only as a secondary character as in the novel Ich, Claudius, Kaiser und Gott (1934) by Robert von Ranke-Graves , which was also made into a TV series.

Since the crucifixion happened during his reign, Tiberius is casually portrayed in works of fiction and monumental films with New Testament references such as The Robe or Ben Hur (triumphal scene, pardon of Ben Hur). In Tinto Brass ' infamous Caligula (1979), based on a script by Gore Vidal , Tiberius was portrayed by Peter O'Toole as a cruel old man. Similarly, Anthony Burgess drew the emperor in his novel The Kingdom of the Wicked , which was filmed as a mini-TV series under the title Anno Domini (1984).

The novels by Josef Toman (1963) and Hubertus Prinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg from 1977 should be mentioned among the literary adaptations after the Second World War . Gerhard Prause (1966) made an attempt at fiction rehabilitation .

The Spanish psychologist Gregorio Marañón researched the personality of Tiberius in 1939 and analyzed a possible mental illness, the so-called resentment syndrome, in which the self-perception and the impression that people actually leave in their surroundings are disturbed. Such a disturbed self-perception often results from failure.

Tiberius in research

The ancient historiographers Suetonius , Cassius Dio and especially Tacitus portray Tiberius as lethargic and tyrannical. The negative characterization of Tiberius, however, had already been made in earlier, now lost historical works on which the authors mentioned relied. In research it could be proven through source analyzes that Dio and Tacitus sometimes used a common source, although none of them always followed just one source. However, Velleius Paterculus , who, in contrast to the other historiographers, was a contemporary of Tiberius, finds words of praise, which, however, have to be interpreted as a panegyric glorification of Tiberius.

Radical modern attempts at rehabilitation, including the idea of ​​seeing Tiberius as a strong leader, can be ascribed to the political projections of the 19th century. Ernst Kornemann's Tiberius biography, published posthumously in 1960 , also belongs to the energetic rehabilitation attempts and places the emperor's death in a world-historical context of the crucifixion.

Modern research seeks a more balanced judgment. According to Zvi Yavetz , Tiberius was not interpreted as a tyrant because he was not a usurper (because the legitimacy of his rule was undisputed by the adoption of Augustus), did not seek divine worship and did not wage wars of conquest to divert attention from domestic political difficulties. Yavetz called his Tiberius biography The Sad Emperor and thus interpreted Tiberius psychologically, as he attributed the unofficial epithet tristissimus hominum ("the saddest of men") and his gloomy and human-shy personality to the problematic events in Tiberius' youth. Even Michael Grant saw Tiberius for the heritage of the Principality as a characteristically not sufficiently suited to.

Barbara Levick justifies the unfavorable judgment of ancient historiography from the institutionalization of the principate after the death of Augustus, the material interests of the Senate aristocracy and the contrasting fatigue of the emperor, who failed to curb the court intrigues other than by force, but in the Provincial government had a lucky hand. Robin Seager explains in a similar way the historical picture based on a common failure of the emperor and the senate as well as on the basis of narrative patterns of ancient historiography, which describe a phased transformation of the emperor into a monster. David CA Shotter recognizes weaknesses in the administration of Tiberius, especially in dealing with the Senate, but assigns him the merit of having permanently transformed the empire into a dynastic monarchy after Augustus .



Web links

Commons : Tiberius  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Tiberius usually refrained from naming Gentiles Iulius , acquired through adoption, in his title , but never officially discarded it; see. z. B. CIL 2, 1660 or CIL 6, 930 .
  2. At birth and year Sueton , Tiberius 5 , which as minority opinions fundi and 43 years or 41 v. Chr. Calls.
  3. Cassius Dio 48, 44, 4-5 .
  4. Suetonius, Tiberius 6, 3 .
  5. ^ Suetonius, Tiberius 6, 4 .
  6. ^ Cassius Dio 48, 44, 5 .
  7. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 7.2-3 .
  8. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 11.5 .
  9. Dietmar Kienast: Augustus. Princeeps and Monarch. 3rd, revised and expanded edition. Darmstadt 1999, p. 130.
  10. Waltraud Jakob-Sonnabend: Tiberius on Rhodes: Retreat or Calculus? In: Charlotte Schubert , Kai Brodersen (ed.): Rome and the Greek East. Festschrift for Hatto H. Schmitt on his 65th birthday. Stuttgart 1995, pp. 113-116.
  11. Suetonius: Tiberius from 13.3 to 14.1 .
  12. Velleius Paterculus 2,108,1 .
  13. Tacitus: Annals 2,46,2 .
  14. Velleius Paterculus 2,117,1 . See also the article Varus Battle .
  15. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 17.2 .
  16. Cassius Dio 56,24,6 .
  17. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 18.1 .
  18. So Ralf Günter Jahn: The Roman-Germanic War (9-16 AD) . Dissertation, Bonn 2001, p. 195.
  19. Velleius Paterculus 2,120,2 .
  20. Cassius Dio 56.25.2 .
  21. See Peter S. Wells: The battle in the Teutoburg Forest . Translated by Lutz Walther, Düsseldorf et al. 2005, pp. 205f .; similarly also Reinhard Wolters : Roman conquest and rule organization. On the origin and significance of the so-called clientele-fringe states . Bochum 1990, p. 228f.
  22. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 23 .
  23. Tacitus: Annals 1,8,1 .
  24. ↑ On this in detail Ulrich Huttner: Recusatio Imperii. A political ritual between ethics and tactics . Hildesheim et al. 2004.
  25. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 22 .
  26. ^ Tacitus: Annals 1,6 : Primum facinus novi principatus fuit Postumi Agrippae caedes - "The first act of the new rule was the murder of Agrippa Postumus".
  27. Tacitus: Annals 1.17 ; 1.26 ; 1.31.4 .
  28. Tacitus: Annals 1,31,3 .
  29. ^ Ralf Günter Jahn: The Roman-Germanic War (9-16 AD) . Dissertation, Bonn 2001, p. 210.
  30. Tacitus: Annals 1.11 .
  31. Dietmar Kienast: Augustus. Princeeps and Monarch. 3rd, revised and expanded edition. Darmstadt 1999, p. 373f .; Karl Christ suspects on border problems: On the Augustan German policy. In: Chiron 7, 1977, pp. 149–205, especially pp. 198 ff., With the border the Rhine is meant. Dieter Timpe thinks of the Orient: The triumph of Germanicus. Investigations into the campaigns of 14-16 AD in Germania. Bonn 1968.
  32. ^ Werner Eck , Antonio Caballos, Fernando Fernández: The Senatus consultum de Cn. Pisone patre. Munich 1996.
  33. Tacitus: Annals 1,15,1 ; see also Greg Rowe: Princes and Political Cultures. The New Tiberian Senatorial Decrees . Ann Arbor 2004.
  34. Tacitus: Annals 2.85 .
  35. ^ So Barbara Levick : Tiberius the Politician. 2nd Edition. London 1999, pp. 125-147; relativizing Wolfgang Orth: The provincial politics of Tiberius. Dissertation, Munich 1970.
  36. Tacitus: Annals 2.47 .
  37. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 48 . For the history of research, see Colin P. Elliott: The Crisis of AD 33: past and present. In: Journal of Ancient History. Volume 3, 2015, pp. 267–281, doi : 10.1515 / jah-2015-0006 .
  38. Suetonius: Caligula 37.3 .
  39. ↑ In detail Cornelia Zäch: The majesty trials under Tiberius in the representation of Tacitus. Dissertation, Zurich 1971. See most recently: Steven H. Rutledge: Imperial inquisitions. Prosecutors and informants from Tiberius to Domitian. London 2001.
  40. ↑ In addition, the fundamental study by Jochen Bleicken : Senate Court and Imperial Court. A study on the development of procedural law in the early principate. Göttingen 1962, who worked out the institutional links and judged the role of Tiberius in a relatively negative way.
  41. See also Steven H. Rutledge: Imperial Inquisitions. Prosecutors and Informants from Tiberius to Domitian. London et al. 2001; Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire. From Augustus to Constantine. P. 188f.
  42. Tacitus: Annals 4.23 to 25 .
  43. Velleius Paterculus 2,127–128 .
  44. ^ Tacitus: Annals 4,8; 4.10 .
  45. ^ Robin Seager: Tiberius . 2nd edition, Malden et al. 2005, p. 227 with note 15.
  46. Dieter Hennig: L. Aelius Seianus. Investigations into the government of Tiberius . Munich 1975, pp. 45-52; see. David CA Shotter: Agrippina the Elder - a Woman in a Man's World . In: Historia 49, 2000, pp. 341-357.
  47. ^ So Dieter Hennig: L. Aelius Seianus. Investigations into the government of Tiberius . Munich 1975, pp. 145-155; Barbara Levick: Tiberius the Politician . London 1999, pp. 173-175.
  48. Tacitus: Annalen 6,5,6,3 .
  49. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 43-44 ; Suetonius: Vitellius 3.2 .
  50. Cf. for example Tacitus: Annalen 6,6.4 ; see Dirk Rohmann: Violence and Political Change in the 1st Century AD Munich 2006.
  51. ^ Clemens Krause: Villa Jovis. The residence of Tiberius on Capri . Mainz 2003.
  52. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 75 . For forms of political participation of the Roman citizenry, see Julia Sünskes Thompson: Demonstrative Legitimation of Imperial Rule in a Comparison of Epochs. On the political power of the urban Roman people . Stuttgart 1993.
  53. ^ Suetonius: Tiberius 75.3 .
  54. Tacitus: Annals 6,6,43,3 .
  55. Tacitus: Annals 6,6.46,9 .
  56. Suetonius: Caligula 12.2 reports that Tiberius was deprived of food during attacks of fever, while Tacitus states that Gaius suffocated Tiberius with a pillow (Tacitus: Annalen 6,6.50,1 ).
  57. Eusebius: Historia Ecclesiastica 2.2.
  58. Tacitus: Annalen 15,44,3-4 .
  59. See Paul Schlenther: Gerhart Hauptmann. Life and works . 3rd edition, Berlin 1922.
  60. ^ Franz Horn: Tiberius. A historical painting . Hinrichs, Leipzig 1811.
  61. See the list: Historical novels about Tiberius .
  62. Gerhard Prause: Nobody laughed at Columbus . Econ, Munich 1966.
  63. ^ Gregorio Marañón: Tiberius. Story of a resentment . (Munich 1952; Spanish 1939).
  64. On the negative image of Tiberius, cf. last: Manfred Baar: The image of the emperor Tiberius in Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio . Stuttgart 1990.
  65. Cf. Dieter Flach, Tacitus and his sources in the annals books I-VI , in: Athenaeum Vol. 51 (1973), pp. 92-108.
  66. See Karl Christ: Velleius and Tiberius. In: Historia 50, 2001, pp. 180-192.
  67. See Barbara Levick: Tiberius the Politician . London 1999, p. 223.
  68. Ernst Kornemann: Tiberius . Stuttgart 1960.
  69. ^ Zvi Yavetz: Tiberius. The sad emperor . Munich 2002, pp. 26f., 175f.
  70. Michael Grant: Rome's Caesars: from Julius Caesar to Domitian . Munich 1978, p. 116.
  71. ^ Barbara Levick: Tiberius the Politician . London 1999, pp. 222-225.
  72. ^ Robin Seager: Tiberius . 2nd ed., Malden et al. 2005, pp. 209–242.
  73. David CA Shotter: Tiberius Caesar . 2nd ed., Routledge, London 2004, pp. 76-80.
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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 25, 2007 in this version .