TIBERIUS (14 - 37 AD)



Tiberius succeeds Augustus (reluctantly)

Augustus's problems finding a successor - Tiberius was the fourth choice! Successful general in his youth, becoming an embittered recluse on the island of Capri. Intrigues about his successor - plot of Sejanus.


Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar: born 16 November 42 BC, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero (d. 33 BC) and Livia Drusilla (c. 58 BC - AD 29), who married Augustus in 39 BC. Became emperor in AD 14. Married [1] Vipsania (one son, Drusus 13 BC - AD 23); [2] Julia, daughter of Augustus. Died at Misenum, 16 March AD 37.

Though Tiberius had been groomed by Augustus as his successor, he was actually fourth choice after Agrippa, husband of Augustus’s only daughter Julia, and their sons, Gaius and Lucius, all of whom died in Augustus’s lifetime. Thus to an already diffident nature was added a sense of inferiority.

Marcus Agrippa

Dupondius with the head of Marcus Agrippa. COS III indicates that he had been consul three times, in 37, 28, and 27 BC. He died in 12 BC. His son, Agrippa junior, was born posthumously, and, because of his violent character, was exiled in AD 7. (VRoma: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Barbara McManus)

On Agrippa’s death, Augustus compelled Tiberius to divorce his wife and become Julia’s third husband. Five years later, in 6 BC, in spite of his appointment to a five-year term as senior tribune of the people, a function up till then performed by Augustus himself, Tiberius obtained leave of absence, and retired to Rhodes.


Julia, daughter of Augustus. Of the reasons suggested for Tiberius’s departure to Rhodes, her behaviour is not the most unlikely. By the time Tiberius returned in AD 2, she had been banished by her father for adultery. (Vatican Museums, Rome: René Seindal)

Tiberius, now Augustus’s adopted son, was then sent to command the imperial armies, all based outside Italy. From then until Augustus’s death, which happened while Tiberius was travelling, he hardly visited Rome. He was summoned back not by the senate, but by his elderly mother, Livia Augustus’s widow. In order to secure his position, he had Agrippa junior (Agrippa Postumus), Augustus’s last surviving grandson, killed, though some said that this was organized by Livia.


It is said that Livia’s first husband was forced to divorce her, and she married Augustus when six months pregnant with Drusus. (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: René Seindal)

There followed several years of intrigue over the future succession, in the course of which Tiberius’s son Drusus and his nephew Germanicus died. Tiberius was so affected by indecision that finally, in 26 AD, he departed to his holiday villa on the isle of Capri, never to return to the city.

Capri - Tiberius' villa

The ruins of Tiberius’s villa from the road, Capri. Several Roman historians suggested that it was his palace of sexual pleasures of various kinds. (VRoma: Barbara McManus)

Tiberius left the administration in the hands of Lucius Aelius Sejanus (d. AD 31), praetorian prefect (commander of the imperial guard), who was conspiring against his emperor while removing people in his own path to the post. Tiberius wrote to the senate expressing his suspicions. Sejanus, his family, including his children, and many of his cronies were brutally executed.

Tiberius’s last years were still fraught with morbid mistrust. Whether, at the age of 78, he died naturally or was murdered is uncertain, but by then the number of serious candidates for the succession had been reduced to two: his own grandson, Tiberius Gemellus (c. AD 20 - 37), and his last surviving great-nephew, Gaius Caesar, now 24, nicknamed Caligula (“Bootsie”) after the miniature army boots he used to wear as a child.

With typical vacillation to the last, Tiberius named them joint heirs.

Tiberius twins

Bronze coin of Tiberius (c. AD 22). Tiberius Gemellus had a twin brother, Germanicus, who died in infancy. They are both depicted here in cornucopiae, with between them the winged caduceus, the herald’s staff which is also the sign of the god Mercury. (VRoma: Pergamon Museum, Berlin: Barbara McManus)


Germanicus Caesar, father of Caligula, was a nephew of Tiberius and the husband of his niece Agrippina. He died in mysterious circumstances in Syria. (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: René Seindal)

Agrippina the elder

Agrippina the Elder, wife of Germanicus and mother of Caligula. She had nine children, six of whom lived into their twenties. (Capitoline Museums, Rome: René Seindal)


A detailed timeline for Agrippa can be found if you select"Timelines" in the menu above.


Pen portrait of Tiberius

“He was a large, strong man of above average height, with broad shoulders and chest, and well-proportioned all the way from head to toe. He was left-handed, and his joints were so strong that he could bore through an apple with one finger, and break open a boy’s or even a teenager’s head with a mere rap of the knuckle. He wore his white hair long at the back, covering his neck, a family habit, apparently. He had a handsome face, which would, however, suddenly erupt into a fierce rash.” (Suetonius, Tiberius 68)

Believe it or not:

There was no such office as public prosecutor in Rome. It was left to private individuals to act as informers, hoping to qualify for a reward of at least a quarter of the confiscated property of anyone who was convicted of treason as a result of their accusations. Tiberius’s sister-in-law Antonia tipped him off about the activities of Sejanus.