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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Tiberius Caesar Augustus (or Tiberius I), born Tiberius Claudius Nero (November 16, 42 BCMarch 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 Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced his father and was remarried to Octavian Augustus in 39 BC. Tiberius would later marry Augustus' daughter Julia the Elder (from an earlier marriage) and even later be adopted by Augustus, by which act he became a Julian, bearing the name Tiberius Julius Caesar. 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 was 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 who never really desired to be emperor; Pliny the Elder called him tristissimus hominum, "the gloomiest of men". After the death of Tiberius’ son Julius Caesar 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 Sutorius Macro. Caligula, Tiberius’ adopted grandson, succeeded the Emperor upon his death.

Tiberius in Capri, with Sejanus in Rome

Lucius Aelius Sejanus had served the imperial family for almost twenty years when he became Praetorian Prefect in AD 15. As Tiberius became more embittered with the position of Princeps, he began to depend more and more upon the limited secretariat left to him by Augustus, and specifically upon Sejanus and the Praetorians. In AD 17 or 18, Tiberius had trimmed the ranks of the Praetorian guard responsible for the defense of the city, and had moved it from encampments outside of the city walls into the city itself, giving Sejanus access to somewhere between 6000 and 9000 troops. The death of Drusus elevated Sejanus, at least in Tiberius's eyes, who thereafter refers to him as his 'Socius Laborum' (Partner in my labours). Tiberius had statues of Sejanus erected throughout the city, and Sejanus became more and more visible as Tiberius began to withdraw from Rome altogether. Finally, with Tiberius's withdrawal in AD 26, Sejanus was left in charge of the entire state mechanism and the city of Rome.

Sejanus's position was not quite that of successor; he had requested marriage in AD 25 to Tiberius's niece, Livilla, though under pressure quickly withdrew the request. While Sejanus's Praetorians controlled the imperial post, and therefore the information that Tiberius received from Rome and the information Rome received from Tiberius, the presence of Livia seems to have checked his overt power for a time. Her death in AD 29 changed all that. Sejanus began a series of purge trials of Senators and wealthy equestrians in the city of Rome, removing those capable of opposing his power as well as extending the imperial (and his own) treasury. Germanicus's widow Agrippina the Elder and two of her sons, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were arrested and exiled in AD 30 and later all died in suspicious circumstances. In Sejanus's purge of Agrippina the Elder and her family, Caligula, Agrippina the Younger, Julia Drusilla, and Julia Livilla were the only survivors.

In 31, Sejanus held the consulship with Tiberius in absentia, and began his play for power in earnest. Precisely what happened is difficult to determine, but Sejanus seems to have covertly attempted to court those families who were tied to the Julians, and attempted to ingratiate himself with the Julian family line with an eye towards placing himself, as an adopted Julian, in the position of Princeps, or as a possible regent. Livilla was later implicated in this plot, and was revealed to have been Sejanus's lover for a number of years. The plot seems to have involved the two of them overthrowing Tiberius, with the support of the Julians, and either assuming the Principate themselves, or serving as regent to the young Tiberius Gemellus or possibly even Gaius Caligula. Those who stood in his way were tried for treason and swiftly dealt with.

In AD 31 Sejanus was summoned to a meeting of the Senate, where a letter from Tiberius was read condemning Sejanus and ordering his immediate execution. Sejanus was tried, and he and several of his colleagues were executed within the week. As commander of the Praetorian Guard, he was replaced by Naevius Sutorius Macro.

Tacitus writes that more treason trials followed and that whereas Tiberius had been hesitant to act at the outset of his reign, now, towards the end of his life, he seemed to do so without compunction. Hardest hit were those families with political ties to the Julians. Even the imperial magistracy was hit, as any and all who had associated with Sejanus or could in some way be tied to his schemes were summarily tried and executed, their properties seized by the state (in a similar way, in the few years after Valeria Messalina's death, Agrippina the Younger removed anyone she considered loyal to Messalina's memory, much in the same way that Sejanus's followers were executed). As Tacitus vividly describes,

"Executions were now a stimulus to his fury, and he ordered the death of all who were lying in prison under accusation of complicity with Sejanus. There lay, singly or in heaps, the unnumbered dead, of every age and sex, the illustrious with the obscure. Kinsfolk and friends were not allowed to be near them, to weep over them, or even to gaze on them too long. Spies were set round them, who noted the sorrow of each mourner and followed the rotting corpses, till they were dragged to the Tiber, where, floating or driven on the bank, no one dared to burn or to touch them.
However, Tacitus' portrayal of a tyrannical, vengeful emperor has been challenged by several modern historians. The prominent ancient historian Edward Togo Salmon notes in his work, A history of the Roman world from 30 B.C. to A.D. 138: {{bquote|"In the whole twenty two years of Tiberius' reign, not more than fifty-two persons were accused of treason, of whom almost half escaped conviction, while the four innocent people to be condemned fell victims to the excessive zeal of the Senate, not to the Emperor's tyranny".

While Tiberius was in Capri, rumours abounded as to what exactly he was doing there. Suetonius records lurid tales of sexual perversity and cruelty, and most of all his paranoia. While sensationalized, Suetonius' stories at least paint a picture of how Tiberius was perceived by the Roman people, and what his impact on the Principate was during his 23 years of rule.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tiberius" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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