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Kate Williams

on 29 September 2013

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Transcript of Tiberius

Tiberius by Kate Williams
Augustus’ hopes for a successor from among his direct descendants had been frustrated by the early deaths of his grandsons Lucius and Gaius Caesar. The favourite of his two stepsons, Drusus, had also died and so Tiberius Claudius Nero, the surviving stepson, had been adopted as Augustus’ son in AD 4.

Since Tiberius was Augustus’ designated successor, it was expected that on the death of his ‘father’ he would have his powers conferred on him by the senate, although they were entitled to choose someone else. The consuls, followed by the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the senate, the knights and the people, swore allegiance to Tiberius, and the senate conferred the principate on him
However, Tiberius was hesitant to accept the powers of the princeps, reasons for this may be:

1. There was no fixed rule of succession within the imperial family.
2. Maybe he was simply following Augustus’ example
3. Tiberius was 55 when Augustus died, and this was considered to be quite old at this time.
What did Augustus do to try and make sure one of his family succeeded him as leader of the Roman Empire?
He engineered situations such as forced marriages and adoptions to make sure he had an heir.
The murder of Agrippa Postumus
The new reigns first crime was the murder of Agrippa Postumus (grandson of Augustus and son of Julia and Agrippa). He was murdered by the staff officer who guarded him, supposedly on written instructions from Tiberius.
The Mutinies of the Frontiers
Immediately after Tiberius’ accession two serious mutinies occurred – among the troops in Pannonia and in Lower Germany. Although these outbreaks were not personal protests against Tiberius, a change of emperor gave the troops the opportunity to show their dissatisfaction and their concern about future terms of service.
Grievances of the troops.
. Length of service - usually 20 years
. Pay - 2 and a half sesterces a day ( two thirds was deducted for clothes, weapons and equipment)
. Conditions - the floggings, the drudgery of service, the severe winters.
The progress of the Mutinies
Pannonia - the members of the regular army in Pannonia under the command of Q. Junius Blaesus were encouraged to mutiny by a private soldier, who had been a professional applause-leader in the theatre. He urged them to demand payment of four sesterces a day, a sixteen year term of service and a cash payment of retirement.
Tiberius' Relationship with Germanicus
Germanicus, the son of Tiberius’ brother, Drusus was adopted by Tiberius on the instigation of Augustus. There is no doubt that Germanicus was immensely popular with the Roman people and the army, he was a loyal and competent commander and was a good diplomat. However, Tacitus’ excessive praise of Germanicus is not substantiated by a careful reading of the Annals. Tacitus’ motive in describing him in such a favourable light was to blacken the character of Tiberius by contrast.

Lower Germany
Supreme command of the legions of Upper and Lower Germany was in the hands of Germanicus. Severus, general of the mutinous troops, was unable to handle the situation as the frenzied men attacked and killed their company commanders. This mutiny was far more serious than the outbreak in Pannonia, since the numbers involved were greater and there was the possibility of the revolt spreading.
The Influence of Sejanus on Tiberius
Sejanus had been joint Commander of the Guard with his father, and had served Augustus; he had accompanied Drusus to Pannonia during the revolts.
However, Sejanus concealed an unbounded lust for power’, and he had already taken some steps to realise his ambitions. In 23, he concentrated the normally scattered battalions of the Praetorian Guard into one camp just outside Rome on the pretext that this arrangement would minimise discipline problems and be more effective in an emergency. His real reasons were to increase the Guard’s power and to intimidate the citizens.
Tiberius and the Senate
If Augustus’ principate was to continue to appear legitimate, it was necessary for Tiberius to rule with the full cooperation of the senate. R. Syme maintains that he was genuine when he professed, at the beginning of his reign, his intention to govern as a true princeps. Tiberius needed the senate’s help. Running the empire was an enormous task; it was not until the time of Claudius that a centralised bureaucracy handled most of the business of empire. Also, Tiberius preferred to have an independent body helping him, since he appears to have been genuinely hesitant about the responsibility.
Tiberius’ attempts at co-ruling with the senate
Tiberius attempted to uphold the traditional rights of the senate as well as treat it with dignity and as a partner in running the empire. Tiberius genuinely sought its aid, sometimes on matters which were not its concern. He showed courtesy and respect when addressing not only individual senators but the House as a whole, and stood in the presence of the consuls.
Any titles which the nobility might find offensive, such as ‘imperator’ and ‘father of his country’, he avoided; he refused to have a month called after him or any temples constructed in his honour, and he discouraged flattery. He enlarged and developed some of the senate’s duties. Under him the senate became practically the only legislative body after AD 14. Although he followed Augustus’ example of commending candidates for election, he did it on a smaller scale. Tiberius never overrode the normal electoral system. Under Tiberius the senate became the chief criminal court, particularly for treason trials. He was anxious to retain worthy men in the senate, and if any had fallen on hard times he was inclined to help them financially. Tiberius invited the senate to discuss provincial petitions from delegations of Ephesians and Magnesians, and from many other cities. Tiberius also sent a letter to the senators ‘blaming them for referring all their difficulties to him’.

Rome had no public prosecutor; information was brought to the authorities, the senate and emperor by private individuals. If a charge of treason brought by these informers (delatores) was upheld, they were awarded at least one-quarter of the property confiscated from the guilty person. The remaining three-quarter of the property went into the treasury. The encouraged the growing ‘class’ of delatores to lie, bribe and manufacture evidence.
Many of the charges were trivial and ridiculous, such as the accusations made against a Roman Knight, Falanius. He was charged with allowing a comic actor – who was also a male prostitute – to assist in the worship of Augustus and with selling a statue of Augustus as part of some garden furniture.
Tacitus attempted to create in the minds of his readers the impression that the number and frequency of treason trials increased as Tiberius’ reign progressed. He builds up a picture of Tacitus attempted to create in the minds of his readers the impression that the number and frequency of treason trials increased as Tiberius’ reign progressed.
However, a careful study of Tacitus’ account reveals that during Tiberius’ reign of almost 23 years no more than 53 people were charged with treason, and of these 30 were never prosecuted. Many of those charged with treason and other offences chose to commit suicide rather than wait for the senate’s verdict. In the first part of his reign Tiberius dismissed many cases which he considered ridiculous and intervened in others to pardon the accused or to lessen the sentence.

Tiberius’ frontier and provincial policies
Tiberius’ government of the empire was carried out with real statesmanship. Even Tacitus admits this:
The Frontier Policy
Tiberius followed Augustus’ advice to avoid an extension of the empire beyond its present frontiers except where it was necessary for security, such as in the east. He strengthened the eastern frontiers by ‘astute diplomacy without warfare’ and limited annexations of client-kingdoms.
The Rhine
The northern frontier was maintained at the Rhine after Germanicus’ attempts to extend it to the Elbe were curtailed by Tiberius.
The Danube
Tiberius used a number of methods of secure the Danube frontier. He hired a native leader to use the Suebi and Marcomanni to keep watch on the Upper Danube. He strengthened the middle Danube region by combining the previous senatorial provinces under the competent imperial legate, Poppaeus Sabinus. The Lower Danube area had been divided by Augustus between two Thracian kings. As a result of trouble between them, during which one was killed, Tiberius replaced them and appointed a Roman resident to supervise the new kings.
The East
Germanicus was sent to the east in AD 17 to settle the question of kingship in Armenia, where he appointed Ataxias III to the throne.
The only serious frontier trouble spot for Tiberius was in Africa. Tacfarinas, a Numidian and once a member of the Roman army, was conversant with Roman military tactics. He carried out successful guerrilla raids on the province of Africa for seven years (17-23). In 21, Junius Bleasus was put in command and succeeded in breaking the back of the insurrection, and in two years peace returned to the province.
Provincial Policy
Tiberius recognised Rome’s responsibility for the welfare of provincials, and would tolerate no abuses by governors or the Roman business class. Despite Tiberius’ efforts to govern the provinces fairly and equably and to promote peace and prosperity, there were a number of problems. As well as the trouble in Africa, there was a brief rebellion in Gaul in AD 21. Tiberius’ policy of leaving governors in office for long periods in order to benefit the provincials fell down when he made a poor judgement about a governor. For example, ten years was too long for Pontius Pilatus who was the governor of Judaea at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The senate resented his guidance and control in the provinces, and were particularly affronted when he encroached on the senatorial sphere by refusing to permit a change of proconsuls for Asia and Africa and keeping the same men there for six years.

An Evaluation of Tiberius and His Reign.
Tacitus’ treatment of Tiberius appears excessively harsh and he has often been criticised for ‘rewriting another tyrant’ because ‘he was unable to shake off the memory of the last years under Domination’. However, Syme says that this is too simple an explanation of his bias against Tiberius. The tradition which survived about Tiberius – and which is reflected not only in Tacitus, but also in Suetonius and Dio Cassius – was uniformly hostile. Syme maintains that Tacitus faithfully recorded the documentary evidence, but could not refrain ‘from adding his own commentary’,
Tacitus believed, as did many of the ancients, that man’s nature never changed and that although it could be suppressed or disguised for a time, it would eventually come to the surface. Therefore, if Tiberius ended his reign as an evil man, he must have always had evil tendencies. Tacitus has described Tiberius as cryptic, secretive, cloaking his thoughts, keeping his true motives hidden, repressing his feelings, deceptive, dissembling, hypocritical, insincere, crafty, resentful, cruel, grim, terrifying, arrogant, morose, hesitant and secretly sensual.
Negative Attributes
Tacitus accused Tiberius of hypocrisy and deceit. Considering the number of humiliations suffered by Tiberius at the hands of Augustus, it is not surprising that an old-fashioned and proud aristocrat would learn to hide his feelings and thoughts. His hesitation in assuming the power of princeps, interpreted by the senate as hypocrisy, may have been genuinely intended to give the senate the opportunity of setting a precedent for future imperial appointments. On the other hand, he may not have felt capable of running the empire single-handedly. Once in office, his genuine intention to govern as a true princeps and to allow free debate meant that he had to be careful about expressing his own thoughts and feelings, in case they unduly influenced the senate. Also, when the senate as a court it was necessary for Tiberius to conceal his own attitude towards the people involved. There were, however, occasions when Tiberius’ statements and behaviour did smack of hypocrisy. He continually promised to visit the provinces and the armies but never did.According to Tacitus, Tiberius regarded dissimulation, or the ability to ‘cloak his thoughts’, as he greatest virtue.

Vindictiveness was another charge made by Tacitus against Tiberius. This was associated with the bitter resentment that developed during his marriage to Julia and as a result of the hostility of Agrippina, the death of Drusus and the treachery of Sejanus. Tiberius ordered the execution of Sempronius Gracchus. He had been the lover of Julia when she was married to Agrippa, and when she ‘was transferred to Tiberius this persistent adulterer made her defiant and unfriendly to her new husband’. He had been exiled to an African island, but when Tiberius became emperor her sent soldiers to kill him.
It would have been strange if Tiberius had been unaffected by the revelation that his most trusted friend and adviser had been plotting against him and was responsible for his only son’s death. Tiberius’ natural suspicion of people was intensified and it was to be expected that Sejanus’ children, according to Tacitus, was unnecessary and excessively brutal.
Grimness of Manner
Tacitus also criticises Tiberius for his grim and morose manner, referring to his ‘naturalglumness’. Suetonius supports this view and records that Augustus so ‘disliked Tiberius’ dour manner as to interrupt his own careless chatter when he entered…’.

Vices Unsubstantiated
The accusations of Tacitus and Suetonius regarding Tiberius had many good qualities. He had a firm sense of the duty of a ruler, he behaved stoically at times of personal grief, and he respected tradition. He was unpopular in Rome and was feared and hated by most of the senators. This was partly due to the faults in his character such as bluntness and lack of personal charm, to his naturally serious and morose nature, his insecurity and suspicion, and his cryptic way of speaking. Also, some of his policies did not endear him to the urban mob or the nobility. The increase in the maiestas trials and his retirement to Capri contributed most to the general condemnation of him. Although he lacked brilliance, he had been a very successful military commander, was an extremely efficient ministrator and was regarded highly by the provincials. He wisely continued the policies of Augustus, which gave the Roman world peace and prosperity for over twenty years.
The Question of Succession and the Death of Tiberius.
Tiberius had hesitated over making a decision about the succession, although within the imperial family there were three possible candidates: Tiberius Gemellus, Gaius and Claudius. Tacitus said that ‘Tiberius feared that to nominate a successor outside the imperial house might bring contempt and humiliation upon Augustus’ memory.
Tiberius had made his grandson, Tiberius Gemellus, joint heir with his grandnephew, Gaius. Gemellus, however, was still too young, although Tiberius may have hoped to live long enough for the boy to succeed him. On the other hand, Gaius was ‘in the prime of manhood’ and had been taken to live on Capri with Tiberius when he was nineteen. He had won the support of Macro, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard who had succeeded Sejanus. The other candidate, Claudius, was already middle-aged and ‘his weak-mindedness was an objection’.
When it appeared that Tiberius was dying, Macro organised the sending of messages to provincial governors and generals and was supposed to have helped Gaius to hasten the death of Tiberius by ordering him to be smothered. Tiberius died in March AD 37, when seventy-eight.
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