- Mini Bio
- Name: Tiberius Caesar Augustus
- Born: 16th November 42 BC, Rome, Italy, Roman Republic
- Died: 16th March AD 37, Misenum, Italy, Roman Empire
- Resting place: Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome
- Occupation: Statesman and 2nd Emperor of Rome
- Dynasty: Julio-Claudian
- Reign as emperor: 17th September 14 to 16th March 37 (his death)
- Marriage resume: Vipsania Agrippina (19–11 BC) and Julia the Elder (11–2 BC)
- Trivia: Like him or loathe him, Tiberius displayed compassion and generosity when the people were in need. Following a devastating earthquake in 17AD the emperor awarded the worst hit city of Sardis a grant of 1,000,000 Sesterces and the Tribute from all towns in its vicinity were remitted for 5 years.
"How therefore did parsimony prevail of old? Because, every one was a law to himself; it was because we were then only masters of one city: nor afterwards while our dominion was confined only to Italy, had we found the same instigations to voluptuousness"Tiberius
"Lucillius had no authority but over his slaves, & in collecting domestic rents: that if he had usurped the jurisdiction of Praetor, & employed military force, he had so far violated his orders; they should therefore hear the allegations of the Province"Tiberius
"A right-minded and true-hearted statesman who has had as much sovereign power placed in his hands as you have placed in mine should regard himself as the servant of the Senate; and often of the people as a whole"Tiberius
"My Lords, if I know what to tell you, or how to tell it, or what to leave altogether untold for the present, may all the gods and goddesses in Heaven bring me to an even worse damnation than I now daily suffer"Tiberius
"So many laws made by our ancestors, so many added by the deified Augustus; the former being lost in oblivion, and (which is more heinous) the latter in contempt, have only served to render luxury more secure"Tiberius
"When we covet a thing yet unforbid, we are apt to fear that it may be forbid; but when once we can with impunity and defiance overleap prohibited bounds, there remains afterwards nor fear nor shame"Tiberius
"Industry will slacken, indolence will gain strength, if men’s hopes and fears are not to depend on themselves, if all are confidently to look for resources from outside, useless to themselves and a burden to us"Tiberius
"I would have posterity to remember. They will do abundant right to my memory, if they believe me to have been worthy of my ancestors; watchful of the Roman state; unmoved in perils"Tiberius
"That many illustrious Romans had died for the Commonwealth, but none so vehemently lamented: this however was to the glory of himself and of all men, if a measure were observed"Tiberius
"It is the same with the soul: the sick and raging soul, itself corrupted and scattering its corruption, is not to be qualified but by remedies equally strong with its own flaming lusts"Tiberius
"The Oscan Farce, formerly only the contemptible delight of the vulgar, was risen to such a prevailing pitch of credit and enormity, that it required the authority of the Senate to check it"Tiberius
"The Empire was an immense body; and it became not the dignity of a Prince, upon the revolt of one or two towns, to desert the capital, whence motion was derived to the whole"Tiberius
"Public honours to women ought to be warily adjudged, and with a sparing hand; and that with the same measure of moderation he would receive such as were presented to himself"Tiberius
"It is wonderful that nobody represents, that Italy is in constant want of foreign supplies; that the lives of the Roman People are daily at the mercy of uncertain seas and of tempests"Tiberius
"If So-and-so challenges me, I shall lay before you a careful account of what I have said and done; if that does not satisfy him, I shall reciprocate his dislike of me"Tiberius
"Eloquence is not measured by fortune, and it is a sufficient honour, if he be ranked among the ancient orators" (speaking about his adopted son Germanicus)Tiberius
"If all the poverty-stricken begin to come here and demand money for their children, the 379 applicants will never be satiated, and the public purse will run dry"Tiberius
"To have command is to have all the power you will ever need. To have all the power you will ever need, is to have the world in the palm of you hand"Tiberius
"That it was not a season for reformation; or, if there were any corruption of manners, there would not be wanting one to correct them"Tiberius
"I am a mortal man; I am confined to the functions of human nature; and if I well supply the principal place amongst you, it suffices me"Tiberius
"As to temples and statues of stone, if the idol adored in them comes to be hated by posterity, they are despised as his sepulchres"Tiberius
"A body foul with prostitution; with a spirit breathing destruction to his own family, and rage against the Republic" (about Drusus)Tiberius
"It might be more expedient for you to consult me in the Senate; and for me to declare there, what I judge for the public weal"Tiberius
"Pray assign me any part in the government you please; but remember that no single man can bear the whole burden of Empire"Tiberius
"The glory too of Augustus will vanish, if by the promiscuous courtship of flattery it comes to be vulgarly prostituted"Tiberius
"Hence it is I here invoke the Gods, that to the end of my life they would grant me a spirit undisturbed"Tiberius
"I have not yet become your friend" (retorting to a prisoner who begged for execution)Tiberius
"I shall always be consistent and never change my ways so long as I am in my sense"Tiberius
"It would be much better, if the Gods were allowed to manage their own affairs"Tiberius
"Nothing but the divine genius of Augustus was equal to the mighty task"Tiberius
"For by contemning fame, the virtues that procure it, are contemned"Tiberius
"In a free state, both the tongue and the mind ought to be free"Tiberius
"That she was therefore aggrieved, because she did not reign"Tiberius
"A good shepherd shears his flock; he does not flay them"Tiberius
"Let them hate me, provided they respect my conduct"Tiberius
"Men made for slavery" (Tiberius' opinion of the Senate)Tiberius
"Princes were mortal; the Commonwealth was eternal"Tiberius
"He gives himself the airs of a dozen ancestors"Tiberius
"The gods can protect their own dignity"Tiberius
"None should interrupt his quiet"Tiberius
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Behold, the emperor is dead, long live the emperor.
Stepping into the shoes of Rome's first emperor was never going to be a walk in the park. So it came to pass, where Augustus was idolised Tiberius was despised.
The Legacy of Tiberius, Failed Emperor or Misunderstood Authoritarian
Historical disdain towards Tiberius endures to this day. The victors, or those in power supposedly write history, but in the case of Tiberius the twisted pen of history was taken up by a section of Roman senatorial elite who were embittered by his rule. Needless to say, the opinions of historians like Suetonius were less than kind with their appraisal of the second emperors rule.
Before sitting on the emperor's throne, Tiberius was a military man. He was a brilliant general who scored many battlefield victories across many terrains from the mountainous Raetia in the Alpine region to Illyria on the Balkan Peninsula and across the Danube to defeat the mighty Marcomanni in an area that would later be known as Bohemia.
Great military minds make great leaders on the battlefield, but, this does not always make them great leaders of empires. However, when assessing the rule of Tiberius, his succession to Augustus was challenging from the off. There were rebellions to be quelled and mutinous legions to be assuaged. Tiberius successfully overcame these challenges which led to a period of calm in the Roman empire.
With Tiberius at the helm, Romans enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity. Tiberius understood very clearly the devastation of war and avoided needless conflict for the betterment of the Roman state and its people. Fiscally astute, Rome was in safe hands and many benefitted.
However, his relationship with the senate was less than cordial which caused tension that was not easy to mediate as Tiberius quite publically labelled them as
"Men made for slavery".
Being a good leader is admirable, but, sharing an honest opinion of elite people of influence is considered in politics to be naive. Of this, Tiberius was surely guilty, but did that make him a bad emperor? Amoral and pragmatically questionable yes but not definitively incompetent or financially imprudent.
When Tiberius bored of the Senate and the day to day machinations of state he escaped to his adored Isle of Capri. It was here where the pen of one eyed historians primed their focus to paint a less than sympathetic view of their emperor.
This article is not to say Tiberius was a good man on a personal level. Hell no. Stories are legion of debauched depravity during orgies in his Villa Jupiter on the isle of Capri. Two young boys who had the temerity to complain about being sodomised had their legs broken and Mallonia, a visitor and a woman of means in Roman aristocracy, was summarily raped, defiled and for her protestations had her life destroyed until her sad suicide.
Yes, his personal demeanour could be cruel and malicious, but for matters of state his rule was for the most part proficient. The reality is Tiberius continued the good work of Augustus right up until his departure from Rome to rule through a proxy from the Isle of Capri.
During his self imposed exile to Capri in the Gulf of Naples, Tiberius trusted Sejanus to be his man in Rome and granted him the executive power to administer the state. From his position as the head of the Praetorian Guard, Sejanus enthusiastically embraced his sudden increase of authority and revelled in the broadening of his outreach of governance.
Power however, breeds ambition and blinds the senses with the allure of absolutism. The ego of Sejanus would pay for succumbing to this lure to power when his plot to seize control of the empire was revealed to Tiberius.
Retribution was swift. Sejanus, his family and associates all paid the ultimate price with their executions. The new dilemma for Tiberius was how to rule Rome whilst residing in Capri. Who could he trust? His instinct for survival led to a political paranoia with a haunted mind of conspiracy and a thirst for blood that could not be quenched.
Treason trials became the norm and woe-betide any elite who either upset Tiberius or were inadvertently accused of dissenting views.
When considering the body count of influential Romans and the debauched shenanigans on the Isle of Capri, it is little wonder that Tiberius got a bad press from the elite class that suffered from his rule. But, the empire actually prospered during his tenure. His task was to consolidate what the first emperor Augustus had started. If judged purely on this criteria Tiberius was a successful emperor.
The Tiberius legacy of empire was in fact much better than the books of history have afforded him. However, his legacy of decadence was unfortunately embraced by his Caesarian successors such as Caligula, Claudius and Nero who took delighted note and descended into deplorable debauched degenerates who revelled in saturnalian stimulations of flesh and blood.
Quotes About Tiberius
The eminent Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder spoke of a green fingered emperor:
"Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone"
Pliny the Elder also labelled him as:
"The gloomiest of men"
The author Aldous Huxley made this interesting comparison:
"If Gods are made in the image of men, cosmogonies reflect the forms of terrestrial states. In an empire ruled absolutely by one man the notion of an universe under the control of a single God seemed obvious and reasonable.... The Christian God was a magnified and somewhat flattering portrait of Tiberius and Caligula"
The Roman historian Suetonius spoke of his obsessions:
"However, he had a particular bent for mythology and carried his researches in it to such a ridiculous point that he would test professors of Greek literature – whose society, as I have already mentioned, he cultivated above all others – by asking them questions like: "Who was Hecuba's mother?" – "What name did Achilles assume when he was among the girls?" – "What song did the Sirens sing?""
The author Lionel Thomas Berguer shared this assessment:
"To trace the conduct of Tiberius from his first appearance in history to his death, is as if we should begin with the last acts of Augustus, and read his story backwards to its commencement of the civil wars; each narration would then begin with honour, and conclude with infamy"
Berguer went on to say:
"If Augustus had never attained empire, he would have had a most disgraceful page in history; on the other hand, had Tiberius died with Germanicus, he would have merited a very glorious one: it should seem therefore that he was by nature a better man than his predecessor"
The Roman senator, Tacitus, portrayed him as vengeful towards anyone associated with treasonable actions, regardless of complicity:
"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"
Tacitus then summed him up thus:
"He was infamous for his cruelty, though he veiled his debaucheries, while he loved or feared Sejanus. Finally, he plunged into every wickedness and disgrace, when fear and shame being cast off, he simply indulged his own inclinations"
The historian Edward Togo Salmon was more reserved in his judgement:
"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"
A certain senator, Asinius Gallus, thought him too liberal:
"Tiberius preserved silence, for he conceded to the Senate such phantoms of liberty"