The Julio-Claudian Dynasty was the first family to rule the Roman Empire, beginning with the famous emperor Augustus and ending with the unfortunate Nero. The second of the Roman emperors, a man named Tiberius, was well-known for his cruelty and his capriciousness, while he is less known as an able military commander, at least in his youth.
According to the Biography Channel Online, Tiberius was the son of Livia Drusilla and her first husband Tiberius Claudius Nero, who were also parents to his brother Drusus (sometimes known as the Elder). He was married several times, including to Augustus’s daughter Julia, whom he openly despised and eventually disowned. He also had several children, although none of them would succeed him as Emperor (his grandson Gemellus briefly succeeded him before he was murdered by Caligula, Tiberius’s other heir).
According to the Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, Tiberius was not originally intended to be Augustus’s heir, as the venerable emperor actually intended his grandson’s (through his daughter Julia) to be his joint heirs. However, after their death it became increasingly obvious that Tiberius was the only truly capable and viable choice, hence the first emperor’s decision to have Tiberius marry his daughter Julia. When Augustus died, Tiberius reluctantly took up the position.
Although he was a fairly capable administrator, Tiberius’s reign was marred by his capriciousness and cruelty, especially toward Julia’s daughter Agrippina the Elder and her children, who earned his jealousy due to their popularity with the Roman people. He also came under the malicious influence of various members of the Praetorian Guard, including Sejanus and Macro (the former would fall when it was revealed that he had been plotting against Tiberius with another member of the family).
Toward the end of his reign, Tiberius withdrew to the island of Capri, where it was rumored that he abandoned himself to a wide variety of sadistic pleasures, most of them involving the torture of young boys and girls who were forced to be his “nymphs.” In these later years he rarely visited Rome, preferring to govern from afar.
Death and Succession
When Tiberius died he left his position to his joint heirs Caligula (the son of Agrippina the Elder), and his grandson Gemellus. It was rumored that Macro, the Praetorian Prefect, helped to ease Caligula’s way to the throne by murdering Tiberius while he slept, but this remains uncertain. Caligula would go on to become one of the most infamous of the Roman emperors.
Sources and Related Works
Most of our knowledge of Tiberius and his reign comes from the gossipy historian Seutonius, as well as the author Tacitus. However, Tiberius is probably best known to contemporary readers as a result of his presence in Robert Graves masterpiece of historical fiction I, Claudius, in which the emperor is a cruel man who tortures and mistreats Agrippina because of his jealousy of her and the affection that she raises in the city of Rome (due in some part to the popularity of her husband, the famous general Germanicus). He is also portrayed in this way in the BBC series of the same name.
“Tiberius.” The Biography Channel Online.
“Tiberius.” Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors.