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(16 November 42 BCE - 16 March 37 CE)

 Emperor Tiberius


Tiberius Claudius Nero

Ruled as:

Tiberius Caesar Augustus

not deified


19 August 14 BCE – 16 March 37 CE


16 November 42 BCE


16 March 37 CE

 Tiberius Coin

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born in 42 BCE in Rome. Tiberius was a member of the Claudius family. Thanks to adoption by Augustus, he entered the Julia family. All subsequent emperors as far as Nero were related to these families to varying degrees, hence the name Julio-Claudian dynasty.
He was son of Tiberius Claudius and Livia Drusilla. He was only four years old when his mother Livia divorced with his father.

Suetonius describes that when Tiberius was to be born, Livia reached fortune-tellers.

She pulled out one chicken sitting on eggs, and then she warmed up with her own hands or with the help of servant women, alternately, until the hatching took place. The chicken appeared decorated with an exceptionally beautiful comb. The astrologer Scribonius announced a great future for the baby, promising even royal power, but without royal badges.

Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars III, 142, 14

Tacitus characterizes Tiberius as a self-contained person, initially submissive to his mother, later even jealous of her good reputation among some senators. It is considered that, under the influence of Sejanus (the commander of the praetorians, who became the Emperor’s closest advisor) he turned into a cruel autocrat who did not care about anyone. This is how he is characterized: “… admittedly a mature and tried warrior, but full of pride, both old and hereditary in the Claudius family; many signs of his cruelty, though subdued, also reveal themselves”. Taciutus continues: “Next to him, a mother with an inborn woman lust for reign”. This quotation clearly emphasizes Livia’s dominance over Tiberius even when he was already emperor: “… while Augustus was still alive, there was still someone to resort to, especially as Tiberius had an ingrained respect for his mother, and Sejan did not dare to take the seriousness of the parent overtake”.

Tacitus is generally silent when it comes to the way Tiberius was brought up, but in this one sentence it is conspicuous. “Ingrained respect for the mother”, after all, could not have resulted from anything other than the teaching of this by a raw mother, but also an understanding mother. Tiberius, although later in his reign is insensitive and even arrogant to his mother, did not dare to raise his hand on her. This jealousy was the driving force behind his first actions against his mother. And as Tacit tells us, he did not allow the name Livia to be called “mother of the homeland”.  He has stated on several occasions that it is necessary to maintain a measure in the evidence of honour for women and that he himself will apply a similar limitation to those distinctions which he would like to be awarded”. We continue to read: “…in fact, tormented by jealousy and considering the exaltation of a woman as humiliation of herself did not even allow the lictor to enact for her, refused her the altar of adoption and other such honours”. He also writes about the same thing Suetonius: “he was exceptionally outraged by the deliberations of the Senate in order to add one more to his previous titles as son of August: the son of Livia”.

In 29 BCE Tiberius began his participation in public life by participating in August’s triumph to commemorate Battle of Action. At the age of 17, he became quaestor. In 20 BCE, he went to the East with a mission to receive the legionnaires returned by the Party and lost by Crassus, Decidius and Mark Antony. After returning from the East, together with his brother Drusus the Elder fought against the Alpine tribes. Then, for a year, he was Provincial Governor of the Province Galia Comata. In 13 and 7 BCE Tiberius held the office of consul. Tiberius during the reign of Augustus was the commander of armies, he has been very courageous in numerous campaigns, especially in Illyria and Pannonia (12 – 9 BCE, 6 – 9 CE) and in Germany (9-7 BCE and 4-6 CE). Suetonius also quotes his family’s pedigree and a special event that took place while Livia was married to his father Tiberius Claudius Nero. Then it was Nero, who stood on the side of the Mark Antony, he and his wife Livia had to flee from Augustus. At night they found themselves in the forest, when suddenly “a forest fire occurred on all sides and surrounded the whole retinue with a ring so tightly that the flame burned even a part of Livia’s coat and hair”.

Love and behaviour

The remains of Tiberius villa in Sperlonga, a Roman resort located halfway between Rome and Naples.

The first wife of Tiberius was Vipsania Agrippina, daughter Marcus Agrippa with which, as Suetonius suggests, she was happy. The marriage took place either in the year 20 or 19 BCE. In 13 BCE their son Drusus (called the Younger) was born. However, Augustus after the widowhood daughter Julia was looking for a suitable candidate for her. “Finally, he chose a stepchild, Tiberius, and forced him to abandon his wife, with whom he already had one child”.

Tiberius’ love for Vipsania Agrippina, Suetonius describes in some detail, what our writer, of course, has used. Of course, a second marriage concluded not out of love, but out of duty, turned out to be fatal in effect. The marriage was unsuccessful and the only child, Nero, died in infancy. Tiberius left for the island of Rhodes, or rather he was deported to it. There he found out that his wife had been convicted of debauchery and adultery, that a divorce application had been filed on his behalf, and that he had been granted it by the will of Augustus. However, Tiberius could not return to Rome. He came there only when he promised not to interfere in the management of the state or influence its fate.

Suetonius also quotes a story, as he himself points out an untested one that belongs to gossip, ” supposedly after Tiberius left the secret meeting peacemakers heard these words of Augustus: “The unfortunate Roman people, who will get into such free crushing jaws”. Let us note the difference of opinion that we notice in Tacit and Suetonius about the reason why August mentioned his successor in the person of Tiberius. This quotation writes that Augustus did it” not out of attachment to or concern for the state… but having reviewed his [Tiberius] haughtiness and cruelty, he sought fame in the worst contrast to himself”. Suetonius evaluated the decision more leniently August:

Submissive to his wife’s requests, he did not object to his [Tiberius] cynicism, perhaps even on a personal level: in order to make such a successor even more regrettable at some point in his life. I cannot, however, allow the thought that this prudent and prudent ruler can be reckless in every respect, especially in matters of such particular importance. I’m rather inclined to suppose that considering the advantages and disadvantages of Tiberius, Augustus considered the advantages to be predominant. What’s more, he got into a public spell at a meeting that he was made for the good of the state.

Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars III, 146, 21

RuinsVilla Jovis on the island of Capri. It was there that Tiberius spent the last years of his life, leaving control of the empire in his hands prefects of the praetorians of Sejanus.
Autor: Thomas Möllmann | On Creative Commons license Recognition of authorship – On the same conditions 3.0.

Tiberius was reluctant to endure his mother’s company, of which Suetonius informs us. He also did not want to be accused of being in charge of his actions. He was irritated by her behaviour: “often asked her to stay away from more important and unpleasant things to a woman, especially from the moment she saw a woman in a fire near the temple of Vesta, as she had personally done, encouraging the people and soldiers to help even more strongly; and this is how she used to do during her husband’s lifetime”. As Suetonius suggests, there was finally such an argument between them that Livia took from home August’s hidden letters about the evil disposition of Tiberius and read them out loud. Since then, he has only seen his mother for a few hours, and when she fell ill, he stopped visiting her at all. After his death, he also disregarded her corpse, allowed her to start rotting before the funeral, and her friends cruelly experienced it.

Cassius Dion writes about Tiberius that “he did many great deeds and made only a few mistakes; but when he no longer had a dangerous competitor, his behaviour, which until then had shown countless good deeds, changed to the exact opposite”. Without hesitation, he tortured to gain witnesses against his opponents, real or imaginary. According to Cassius Dion, the change in the way Tiberius was influenced by the following factors Lucius Aelius Sejanus, which he quickly promoted. The Cassius also confirms Suetonius’s account of Tiberius attitude towards Livia’s funeral.

Despite Tiberius’ lack of love for his mother, his cruelty and indifference, all ancient historians agree on one thing. If Livia was suspected of a crime or conspiracy, Tiberius also took part in it. If we assume that it was as a result of the actions of Livia August who brought Tiberius to life, as suggested by Suetonius, she could also have a share in the government of the state shortly after the death of her husband, which would result from the Tacit’s message. Perhaps they were the ones who led to the situation that August no longer had a choice because there was no other candidate to succeed him. It is possible that Livia and Tiberius led in different ways to the death of all potential candidates, but it could not be ruled out that it was a coincidence.

When Augustus died in 29 CE, Tiberius ceased to have any scruples. As Tacitus writes: “without changing his pleasurable lifestyle, he did not take part in the devotion to his mother’s ministry”. The Senate’s distribution of Livia’s honours was so harsh. He did not even want to reveal her will immediately and never, after it was announced, he never fulfilled what she wrote in it.


Tiberius, after withdrawing from public activity and going to voluntary exile on the island of Rhodes in 6 BCE, returned to favour after several years, when August decided to appoint him as successor after the death of Gaius and Lucius (sons of Mark Agrippa). He adopted it, at the same time obliging his nephew to adopt it Germanicus.
After the death of Augustus on August 19, 14 CE, Tiberius automatically assumed the office of Emperor of Rome. It quickly became unpopular, especially in senatorial circles. There was also confusion in the armies on the Rhine and attempts to proclaim Germanicus the Emperor. Later it was suspected that Tiberius had his fingers in the mysterious death of his popular nephew. There was accused of poisoning Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. Tiberius spent the last years of his reign in seclusion on the island of Capri, where, according to Suetonius, he had the following characteristics invent perverse games.

Henry Siemiradzki, Orgy on Capri

The historian Suetonius writes about the perverse sexual excesses of Tiberius during his stay on the island, but his testimony is questionable. Rome at that time was controlled by Sejan, the commander of the praetorians, who became the Emperor’s closest advisor. He used terror against political opponents. The victim of the persecution was, among others, the family of Germanicus: his widow Agrippina and her older sons Nero and Druzus. Sejanus together with his lover Livilla, the bran of his husband Livilla, and the son of Tiberius – Drusus the Younger. Sejanus probably sought to seize power. His plans collapsed, however, when Antonio the Younger managed to convince Tiberius of Sejan’s conspiracy intentions. By order of Emperor, Sejan, his family and allies were executed in 31 CE. For his successors, Tiberius foresaw his cousin Caligula and his own grandson Gemellus, which he passed on in his will.

Death of Tiberius, Jean-Paul Laurens
The painting depicts the Emperor Tiberius, who was supposed to be strangled by order. Naevius Sutorius Macro – prefect of praetorians.


He died on March 16, 37 CE in Misenum. He was buried in Mausoleum of Augustus. Antient writers: Suetonius and Tacit write that Caligula and the new commander of the praetorians, Macro, speeded up his death by suffocating the emperor with a pillow. However, it cannot be ruled out that Tiberius died a natural death.

Evaluation attempt

The reign of Tiberius is a period of peace and good governance for ordinary people in the provinces, but for the Roman aristocracy it is a time of growing tyranny and terror. The city of Tiberiada on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was named after Tiberius by Herod Antipas.

According to Suetonius, Tiberius was extremely economical. During the war expeditions, the participants were only fed without paying any acorns or prizes. He was also known for the fact that he avoided organizing shows, as well as being organized by others. Only once did he provide financial assistance to several senators, who have sufficiently argued their needs.


  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzowych Rzymu, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004

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