Emperor Tiberius in his Youth

Emperor Tiberius in his Youth

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Tiberius had never shown any level of excitement about becoming the ruler of Rome. His mother, Livia, on the other hand, was ecstatic that her son had absolute power. There is a suggestion that Livia had a hand in the death of Augustus, but this notion appears to be speculative. Certainly, Livia wanted a share in the running of the Empire, and there is a possibility that she had Agrippa Postumus, the last surviving grandson of Augustus, murdered without Tiberius&rsquo knowledge.

According to Cassius Dio, Livia was not content to share power with the Emperor she wanted to take precedence over him because she had ‘made&rsquo him Emperor. Eventually, Tiberius grew tired of her interference and removed her from public affairs. There is even a suggestion that he exiled himself to get away from her. It is telling that when she died in 29 AD, Tiberius did not attend the funeral.

Early Life

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born on November 16, 42 BC. His childhood was a difficult one as his mother quickly became estranged from his father. The couple divorced soon after Tiberius&rsquo birth and in 39 BC, his mother, Livia Drusilla, married the future Emperor Augustus. Although this ultimately placed him in line to the throne, he was by no means a favorite of Augustus.

In fact, he was fourth in line (some historians say fifth) behind Augustus&rsquos two grandsons Lucius and Gaius and Admiral Agrippa. Tiberius married Vipsania Agrippa (daughter of the famous Admiral) in 19 BC. By all accounts, the couple was in love, but in 12 BC, Augustus forced Tiberius to divorce the pregnant Vipsania and marry his daughter Julia who was recently widowed. Tiberius hated his new wife, but she fell afoul of Augustus who sent her into exile. Julia died from starvation in 14 AD.

Tiberius once again as Jupiter.

The Historical Evidence for Jesus vs. Tiberius Caesar

This is one of the most common questions I get from believers and skeptics alike. It is a fair question. One of the best responses I have found is to compare the sources for Jesus with the sources for Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor from AD 14-37.

As the Roman emperor, Tiberius would have been the most powerful man alive during the life and ministry of Jesus. While some coins have been found from the time of his reign, the primary way we know about Tiberius is through written accounts, some of which appear long after his death.

The Historical Evidence for Tiberius

In Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, A.N. Sherwin White summarizes the historical evidence for Tiberius

The story of [his] reign is known from four sources, the Annals of Tacitus and the biography of Suetonius, written some eighty or ninety years later, the brief contemporary record of Velleius Paterculus, and the third-century of Cassius Dio. These disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events…But this does not prevent the belief that the material of Tacitus can be used to write a history of Tiberius” (p. 187-188).

While there are a few other sources not mentioned by White (including Biblical sources), most scholars believe we have sufficient documentation of his life. And this is exactly what we would expect for a person of his influence and stature. Yet how does this compare to the sources for Jesus?

Remember, unlike Tiberius, Jesus had no political position, military power, or governmental authority. He was an itinerant preacher who was largely rejected by his own people. His public ministry was 2-3 years long and he only traveled within Judea. Any historical comparison of Tiberius and Jesus must take into account the length and nature of their ministries.

The Historical Evidence for Jesus

In comparison with Tiberius, what historical evidence do we have for Jesus?

Simply put, we have four historical biographies (Gospels) written in the first century when there would still would have been eyewitnesses around to confirm or reject the claims. We also have the letters of Paul, seven that are accepted by critical scholars, which date from 20-30 years after Jesus’ death. There are also short creeds embedded within Paul’s letters, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which likely dates within 5 years of Jesus’ death. And we also have the other NT books, early church fathers, and secular sources such as Mara Bar-Serapion, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and so on.

Given the breadth of evidence for Jesus, Justin Bass offers the following perspective in his recent book The Bedrock of Christianity:

Tiberius was the most powerful man in the world of his day. Jesus was one of the poorest, belonging to the peasant class as a Jewish carpenter. He even died the most shameful death, a slave’s death, on a cross during Tiberius’ reign. Yet we have far more reliable written sources and closer to the time of Jesus’ actual life and death than this Caesar of Rome."[1]

Considering what might be expected (given the nature of their lives and positions), the historical evidence for Jesus is remarkable when compared to Tiberius Caesar.

For more evidence regarding the historical Jesus, check out the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict (co-written with Josh McDowell).

[1] It may be an overstatement to say the evidence for Jesus far surpasses that for Tiberius. But if we consider what would be expected, given both the length of their “rule” and the nature of their public ministries, the evidence for Jesus is remarkable when compared with the most powerful person of his day.

Emperor Tiberius in his Youth - History

(in full, Tiberius Claudius Nero), the second Roman emperor, successor of Augustus, who began to reign A.D. 14 and reigned until A.D. 37. He was the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia, and hence a stepson of Augustus. He was born at Rome on the 18th of November, B.C. 45. He became emperor in his fifty-fifth year, after having distinguished himself as a commander in various wars, and having evinced talents of a high order as an orator and an administrator of civil affairs. He even gained the reputation of possessing the sterner virtues of the Roman character, and was regarded as entirely worthy of the imperial honors to which his birth and supposed personal merits at length opened the way. Yet, on being raised to the supreme power, he suddenly became, or showed himself to be a very different man. His subsequent life was one of inactivity, sloth and self-indulgence. He was despotic in his government, cruel and vindictive in his disposition. He died A.D. 37, at the age of 78, after a reign of twenty-three years. Our Saviour was put to death in the reign of Tiberius.

Claudius Drusus Nero, the second emperor of Rome, was the son of Livia, and stepson of Augustus and being adopted by that emperor, he succeeded to his throne, A. D. 14. He was at first moderate and just, but soon became infamous for his vices and crimes, and died A. D. 37, after a cruel reign of twenty-two and a half years. It was in the fifteenth year of his reign that John the Baptist commenced his ministry and the crucifixion of Jesus took place in the third or fourth year after, Luke 3:1. This emperor is several times casually mentioned under the title of Caesar, Luke 20:22-25 23:2 John 19:12. His subjects were commanded to pay divine worship to his images.

I.e., as known in Roman history, Tiberius Claudius Nero, only mentioned in Luke 3:1. He was the stepson of Augustus, whom he succeeded on the throne, A.D. 14. He was noted for his vicious and infamous life. In the fifteenth year of his reign John the Baptist entered on his public ministry, and under him also our Lord taught and suffered. He died A.D. 37. He is frequently referred to simply as "Caesar" (Matthew 22:17, 21 Mark 12:14, 16, 17 Luke 20:22, 24, 25 23:2 John 19:12, 15).

The 2nd Roman emperor full name Tiberius Claudius Nero, and official name as emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus born November 16, 42 B.C. His father-of the same name-had been an officer under Julius Caesar and had later joined Antony against Octavian (Augustus). His mother was Livia, who became the 3rd wife of Augustus thus Tiberius was a stepson of Augustus.

2. Early Life and Relation to Augustus:

Much of his early life was spent in successful campaigning. Although the ablest of the possible heirs of Augustus, Tiberius was subjected to many an indignity, Augustus accepting him as his successor only when every other hope failed. When Julia, daughter of Augustus, became a widow for the second time (12 B.C.), Tiberius was obliged to marry her (11 B.C.) in order to become protector of the future emperors. For this purpose he was compelled to divorce his wife, Vipsania Agrippina, who had borne him a son, Drusus. Julia brought Tiberius nothing but shame, and for her immorality was banished by her father (2 B.C.). Tiberius was consul in 12 B.C., and received the proconsular authority, 9 B.C. He carried on successful wars in Pannonia, Dalmatia, Armenia and Germany. He retired in disgust to voluntary exile at Rhodes where he spent several years in study. In 2 A.D., he returned to Rome, and lived there in retirement, 2-4 A.D. On June 27, 4 A.D., Tiberius and Agrippa Postumus were adopted by Augustus. From this date on Tiberius came more and more into prominence, receiving the tribunician power for 10 years.

In 13 A.D. (or according to Mommsen 11 A.D.) Tiberius was by a special law raised to the co-regency. Augustus died August 19, 14 A.D., and Tiberius succeeded. A mutiny in the Rhine legions was suppressed by Germanicus. The principal events of his reign (see also below) were the campaigns of Germanicus and Drusus, the withdrawal of the Romans to the Rhine, the settlement of the Armenian question, the rise and fall of Sejanus, the submission of Parthia. In 26 A.D., Tiberius retired to Capreae, where rumor attributed to him every excess of debauchery. On March 16, 37 A.D., Tiberius died at Misenum and was succeeded by Caius.

On the whole, Tiberius followed the conservative policy of Augustus and maintained the "diarchy." But he approached nearer to monarchy by receiving supreme power for an indefinite period. He went beyond Augustus in practically excluding the people from government by transferring the right of election from the comitia of the people to the senate, leaving to the people the right merely to acclaim the nominees of the senate, and further by imposing laws upon the people without their counsel or discussion. He established a permanent praetorian camp at Rome-a fact of great importance in later Roman history. The administration of Tiberius was that of a wise, intelligent statesman with a strong sense of duty. The civil service was improved, and officers were kept longer at their posts to secure efficiency. Taxes were light on account of his economy. Public security increased. He paid attention to the administration of justice and humane laws were placed on the statute-book.

Though Tiberius was unpopular, he left the empire in a state of prosperity and peace. Of his character the most opposite views are held. His fame has suffered especially from his suspecting nature, which extended the law of majestas to offenses against his person and encouraged delation, which made the latter part of his reign one of terror. The tyranny of Sejanus, too, has been laid upon his shoulders, and he has been accused of the wildest excesses in his retreat at Capreae-a charge which seems to be refuted by the fact that no interruption to his wise administration took place. His character has been blackened most by Tacitus and Suetonius. But on nearer criticism Tiberius's character will appear in better light. No doubt, toward the close of his reign he degenerated, but his cruelties affected only the upper classes. He was called a tyrant and was refused deification after death, and Augustus was said to have prophesied "Alas for the Roman people who shall be ground under such slow jaws." Tiberius was stern and taciturn, critical with himself and, soured by his own disappointments, was suspicious of others. Pliny the Elder calls him "the gloomiest of men." Much of his unpopularity was due to his inscrutability, to the fact that people could not understand him or penetrate into the mystery of his motives. He rarely took counsel with anyone. His life was frugal and modest-a rebuke to the contemporary dissipation. He felt contempt for the inanities of court life and was supremely indifferent to public opinion, but actuated by a strong sense of duty.

6. Tiberius and the New Testament:

The reign of Tiberius is memorable as that in which fell our Lord's public ministry, death and resurrection. It also witnessed the preaching of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1), the conversion of Paul and perhaps his first preaching, the martyrdom of Stephen and the first Christian persecution (by the Jews). Tiberius is mentioned by name only once in the New Testament (Luke 3:1): "the 15th year of the reign (hegemonia) of Tiberius." The question is, From what date is this to be reckoned-the date of Tiberius's co-regency, 13 (or 11) A.D., or from his accession, 14 A.D.? He is the "Caesar" mentioned in the Gospels in connection with Jesus' public ministry (Mark 12:14 and parallel's John 19:12, 15). Herod Antipas built Tiberias in honor of Tiberius (Josephus, Ant, XVIII, ii-iii). It is unlikely that Tiberius ever heard anything about Christianity it had not risen as yet into prominence. Early Christian writers wished to represent Tiberius, if not friendly to the new faith, at least as condemning the action of Pilate. According to one apocryphal tradition, Tiberius actually summoned Pilate to Rome to answer for crucifying Jesus. It is true that Pilate was sent to Rome by the governor of Syria to answer to a charge of unjustifiable cruelty, but Tiberius died before Elate reached Rome.

Under Tiberius Palestine was governed by Roman procurators. Toward the Jews in Italy, Tiberius showed some intolerance. In 19 A.D. all the Jews were expelled from Rome according to Josephus (Ant., XVIII, iii, 5), from Italy according to Tacitus (Ann. ii.85), and 4,000 Jewish freedmen were deported to Sardinia to reduce bands of brigands. Philo attributes this severity to Sejanus, and says that after Sejanus' fall Tiberius, recognizing that the Jews had been persecuted without cause, gave orders that officials should not annoy them or disturb their rites. They were therefore probably allowed to return to Rome (see Schurer, III, 60 f, 4th edition).

(a) Ancient literature, as modern, is divided on its estimate of Tiberius Tacitus Annals i-vi Dio Cassius Rom. Hist. xivi-xivii, and Suetonius Tib. painting him in the darkest colors, while Velleius Paterculus II gives the other side.

(b) Of modern literature it is enough to cite on opposite sides: J. C. Tarver, Tiberius the Tyrant, 1902 Ihne, Zur Ehrenrettung des K. Tib., 1892, and the moderate estimate of Merivale, Romans under the Empire.

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. Klaudios Phonetic Spelling: (klow'-dee-os) Short Definition: Claudius Definition:
(a) Claudius, the fourth of the Roman Emperors, Tiberius Claudius Caesar .
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How Tiberius was Affected when Informed by Pilate Concerning .
. Book II. Chapter II."How Tiberius was affected when informed by Pilate
concerning Christ. 1. And when the wonderful resurrection .
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In the Fifteenth Year of Tiberius C??sar and under the Pontificate .
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After the Death of Tiberius, Caius Appointed Agrippa King of the .
. Book II. Chapter IV."After the Death of Tiberius, Caius appointed Agrippa King
of the Jews, having punished Herod with Perpetual Exile. .
/. /pamphilius/church history/chapter iv after the death of.htm

The Death of Salome. The Cities which Herod and Philip Built. .
. Pilate Occasions Disturbances. Tiberius Puts Agrippa Into Bonds But Caius Frees
Him From Them, And Makes Him King. Herod Antipas Is Banished. .
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In the Latter Days of the Emperor Tiberius, in the Consulship of .
. Chap. II. In the latter days of the Emperor Tiberius, in the consulship
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Of the Navigation of King Agrippa to Rome, to Tiberius Caesar and .
. CHAPTER 6. Of The Navigation Of King Agrippa To Rome, To Tiberius Caesar And Now
Upon His Being Accused By His Own Freed-Man, He Was Bound How Also He, Was .
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Chronology of the Life of Christ
. baptism. Now, as Luke mentions, "the word of God came to John" in the fifteenth
year of the authority [76] of Tiberius Caesar. The .
/. /ramsay/was christ born in bethlehem/chapter 10 chronology of the.htm

From the Departure of Marath Mary from the World, and the Birth .
. letters came from Abgar, the king of the city of Edessa, to Sabina the procurator
[2954] who had been appointed by Tiberius the emperor, and as far as the .
// decretals/vi from the departure of.htm

Preaching of the Apostle Thadd??us at Edessa Copy of Five Letters .
. Abgar was pleased to write to the Emperor Tiberius a letter in these words:". Abgar's
letter to Tiberius. . Answer from Tiberius to Abgar's letter. .
/. // decretals/viii preaching of the apostle.htm

The Tradition of the Church Prior to that of the Heresies.
. For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius,
was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. [3689]. .
/. /clement/the stromata or miscellanies/chapter xvii the tradition of the.htm

Caesar (25 Occurrences)
. The Caesars referred to in the New Testament are Augustus (Luke 2:1), Tiberius
(3:1 20:22), Claudius (Acts 11:28), and Nero (Acts 25:8 Philippians 4:22). .
/c/caesar.htm - 16k

Aretas (1 Occurrence)
. Aretas, taking advantage of the complications of the times on account of the death
of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 37), took possession of Damascus (2 Corinthians .
/a/aretas.htm - 11k

Lysanias (1 Occurrence)
. li-sa'-ni-as (Lusanias): Mentioned in Luke 3:1 as tetrarch of Abilene in the 15th
year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and thus fixing the date of the .
/l/lysanias.htm - 7k

Tiber'i-us (1 Occurrence)
Tiber'i-us. Tiberius, Tiber'i-us. Tibhath . Multi-Version Concordance
Tiber'i-us (1 Occurrence). . Tiberius, Tiber'i-us. Tibhath . Reference Bible.
/t/tiber'i-us.htm - 6k

Pontius (4 Occurrences)
. punishments inflicted by Nero upon the Christians, tells us that Christ, from whom
the name "Christian" was derived, was put to death when Tiberius was emperor .
/p/pontius.htm - 36k

. Philip died after reigning 37 years, in the 20th year of Tiberius-August 19,
786/33-787/34 (Ant., XVIII, iv, 6). There is also a coin of Philip from his 37th .
/c/chronology.htm - 74k

Pilate (60 Occurrences)
. punishments inflicted by Nero upon the Christians, tells us that Christ, from whom
the name "Christian" was derived, was put to death when Tiberius was emperor .
/p/pilate.htm - 53k

. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate,
procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius but the pernicious .
/n/nero.htm - 41k

Tarsus (5 Occurrences)
. of Tarsus were Nestor, a representative of the Academy, and tutor of Marcellus,
Augustus' nephew and destined successor, and of Tiberius, Plutiades and Diogenes .
/t/tarsus.htm - 30k

Luke 3:1
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,

Tiberius: The Final Years

The fall of Sejanus and the subsequent treason trials marred the end of Tiberius' reign as much as allowing his Praetoian Prefect to take power in the first place. While, on the surface, Tiberius' later reign was described as a bloodbath and a reign of terror by Tacitus, relatively few lost there lives in comparison to the repeated disorders of the late Republic. Still, the Roman aristocracy hated him, perhaps in part due to his lack of decisiveness. Tiberius seemed always to be a Republican at heart and only wanted the Senate, or someone, to prove competent enough to govern. However, his greatest fault may have been that he failed to understand the truth that the Republic was truly dead, and rule could only be achieved by a single man, or a select chosen few.

By 34 AD the trials of the 'maiestas' (Law of Treason) were over, and Roman aristrocracy may have returned to some sense of normalcy. However, normalcy under Tiberius was difficult to define. Since his retirement to Capri in 26 AD, the emperor never returned to Rome and seemingly rarely visited the Italian mainland at all. Hatred for him led to all sorts of accusations of perversion and sexual indulgence. Paranoia, fostered through years of Sejanus' various plots, and bearing witness to a lifetime of political wrangling and family dysfunction, did little to help his legacy, and kept some truths of Tiberius' last 12 years hidden from history. He certainly fell victim to the political propaganda of later historians, who in so doing granted support to the serving Emperor in their own era, but Tiberius was no model citizen. His choice of heir, Gaius (Caligula), (and Tiberius Gemellus, who wouldn't live to see his ascension to fruition) would later cast additional clouds on Tiberius' reign, despite the fact that the son of Germanicus was certainly a popular choice at the time. Caligula himself, though, made little mention of his uncle's activities while he stayed with him on Capri. Though the accuracy of Caligula's perceptions may have been clouded anyway, based on the activities of his own reign, his silence on the matter of debauchery on Capri seems to indicate that Tiberius' may have been unduly blasted by the historical record. Regardless, Tiberius was, by the end of his reign, a generally despised figure in the perception of the elite and the common Roman alike.

Despite his inadequacies in dealings within Rome, Tiberius' saving grace was in his seemingly capable abilities as an administrator. He generally followed the practices set down by Augustus and allowed his predecessors rules to continue and sink in. He wisely chose to adhere to Augustus' policy on non expansion, and except for some light campaigns in Germania (necessary to quell legionary revolt), did little in the way of foreign conquest. He suppressed a relatively minor revolt in Gaul under Julius Sacrovir and another more lasting affair under Tacfarinas in Africa. In Armenia, Tiberius efficiently handled political instability through diplomacy, never requiring the use of force. His provincial governors were mostly capable men who served admirably. With the one exception of Piso in Syria, whose rivalry with Germanicus may have cost the latter his life, provincial government ran smoothly and effectively. In fact, Tiberius was so willing to let effective governors stay in place that he left some in their positions for upwards of an unprecedented 10 and 20 years.

Whether Tiberius is remembered as a depraved pervert who reined using murder and mayhem and allowed the rise of Praetorian influence, or as an effective administrator with Republican leanings, the true result of Tiberius rule was the ironic total destruction of the Republican ideal. While Augustus allowed a facade of Senatorial governing to continue to exist, under Tiberius, that facade failed to continue, certainly in part due to Sejanus' rise. Tiberius also poorly prepared for the continuation of the Principate. His own involvement in the destruction of the imperial family, something Augustus would never allow while he lived, helped bring about a lack of quality in succession. Though the popularity of Caligula was certainly overwhelming at first, Tiberius did little to prepare his successor for the rule of the Roman world.

Rome's second 'Emperor' died at the port town of Misenum on March 16, 37 AD. At the age of 78 and a reign of 23 years Tiberius, despite all his faults, proved a successful continuation of the Augustan Principate. Later writers suggested that Tiberius was smothered at the behest of Caligula (who was never really sure if he was the official heir), but such accusations are to be expected in the political climate of the time. Regardless, Tiberius was 78 years and in poor health at his death. His complete unpopularity is proven by the absence of being voted divine honors by the Senate. Caligula never pushed for it, and his successor Claudius, who did force the deification of Tiberius' mother Livia, certainly wasted no effort on Tiberius's behalf. Tacitus, Dio Cassius and Suetonius certainly painted a bleak picture of Tiberius and his reign. According to Suetonius: "the people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting, "Tiberius to the Tiber," (a form of punishment reserved for criminals) while others prayed to Mother Earth and the Manes to allow the dead man no abode except among the damned."

Tiberius, Imperial Detective

Villa of Tiberius

This story is excerpted and adapted from the new book A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome by Emma Southon, PhD, published by Abrams Press © 2021.

Like all the best detective stories, the story opens with the body of a woman being found in Rome in the early hours of the morning, around A.D. 24. The sun was rising, the birds were singing, and a woman’s crumpled body was lying on the ground. The body was that of Apronia, the wife of the praetor Marcus Plautius Silvanus, and she had fallen, somehow, from a high bedroom window and not survived the fall. This was suspicious. Apronia was the daughter of Lucius Apronius, who was a very important man in Rome. He had enjoyed a very successful military career in Germany and Dalmatia, and had jointly put down a revolt in Illyricum. For this act, he had been granted the right to wear Triumphal Regalia, which was a really special outfit. Being the daughter of a man who was allowed to wear the special outfit was a bit like being the daughter of Brad Pitt everyone wanted to marry Apronia so they could hang out with her dad. Her dad had chosen Silvanus, who was a man doing well for himself. He was a praetor, which is just below consul in terms of prestige, and the fact that he married the daughter of Apronius suggested that he was a man on the up.

Unfortunately for Silvanus, Apronia died painfully, hitting the Roman ground hard. Even more unfortunately for Silvanus, Apronius did not believe that his daughter, his good Roman daughter of excellent stock, had simply stumbled and fallen out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night by accident because that is a ludicrous thing to happen. Nor did Apronius, and please imagine here the most clichéd upstanding Roman man you can, a straight-backed, no-bullshit military man in his fine purple toga, think that his daughter had deliberately defenstrated herself, which was Silvanus’s version of events. He believed that Silvanus had pushed her. He believed this strongly enough that he wanted Silvanus prosecuted for it. And he wanted this taken all the way to the emperor—Tiberius.

A typical villa of a wealthy Roman family. Culture Club/Getty Images

Now, you’ll note that we have already diverged from what we may expect the narrative to be. In our murder mystery stories, the dead woman is found in the prologue and chapter one opens with the grizzled alcoholic detective examining the crime scene but no police will appear to investigate Apronia’s suspicious death. There was no representative of the state of Rome who would get involved in this case until Apronius took it to the emperor because, as far as the Romans were concerned, the murder of wives, children, husbands, or really anyone at all was absolutely none of their business.

This is a useful demonstration of how fundamentally differently we view the role of the state to the Romans, and how we differentiate between public and private business. To most of us, it is obvious that the state has a responsibility to keep its people safe, and that it uses the apparatus of the police and the justice system to do this. When someone is murdered, the police investigate, the prosecution service prosecutes, and the prison service takes the murderer away and keeps them locked up until they are judged to be safe. The relatives of the victim aren’t expected to get involved because murder is a public business. The state has two broad functions here: It dispenses justice and punishes the wrongdoer, thus rebalancing the scales of justice, and it protects the people of the state by identifying a cause of harm and preventing it from causing further harm. In much the same way, the state is also now expected to make sure that rotten food isn’t sold in shops and substances judged to be dangerous, like heroin, aren’t freely available. We pay taxes so the state will keep us safe. On the other hand, we don’t expect the state to be getting all up in our bedrooms, legalizing who women can have sex with or rewarding women with public honors for having children. That’s private.

The Romans, however, saw things very differently. Rewarding women for babies was A-OK, making laws about how much jewelry a girl could wear was just sensible policy. But murder? That was family business. If a woman was murdered by her husband, it was her guardian’s job to work that out, find a prosecutor (or act as one), and take him to court if the family wanted to or arrange a fair compensation to be paid if not. There were no police to come and gather evidence or prisons to put dangerous people into, in the same way that there wasn’t a Food and Drug Administration or Food Standards Agency to make sure that tavernae weren’t poisoning people with old meat and that children couldn’t buy knives. That sort of thing was up to the gods and the individual.

The justice system in Rome was one based purely on personal responsibility. The individual was responsible for identifying that a crime had taken place, identifying who had committed the crime, and finding a resolution. Success, however, relied on three things. First, the perpetrator had to be identified, then they had to admit that they did it, and then both parties had to agree on an appropriate level of compensation, which the perpetrator then had to actually pay. None of these was particularly easy. And we regularly see in curse tablets what happened when these steps didn’t work out. Curse tablets are bits of lead on which ancient people wrote curses. They then rolled them up, nailed them shut, and buried them at shrines in the hope that a generous god would smite the person who thieved their pot. An awful lot of them were written by people who were super pissed off that someone stole their pig/gloves/favorite shoes and asked the gods to bring pain and death to that person. The personal responsibility system was a system with flaws. It also allowed some people to have more access to justice than others. Like Apronius.

Now, Apronius could have had a sit-down chat with Silvanus himself and worked out some compensation between them, but Apronius was, as previously mentioned, very important and he wanted more. He wanted public justice to be done and for everyone in Rome to know that Silvanus was a murderer and his daughter a victim. Luckily for him, he had the imperial access to make that happen. In addition, Silvanus was now acting very weirdly indeed. Apronius managed to have Silvanus pulled up in front of Tiberius for questioning very quickly, which would speak to his power and influence by itself. Emperors like Tiberius usually spent their time worrying about what entire provinces and colonized countries were doing, not what one idiot praetor did in his house. Most of the time, anyway.

Tiberius was a grumpy old man, pretty much from birth, but seemed to have absolutely loved a mystery. He was a budding Miss Marple of the Roman world and something about this case caught his attention and he got really invested in it. This might have been because Silvanus’s grandma was Tiberius’s mother’s best friend. Livia and Urgulania (Is this the worst name in history? Quite possibly yes.) were inseparable, and Livia was more than a little influential in her son’s early reign. Or it might have been that he just really liked Apronius. First, Tiberius questioned Silvanus about what had happened to poor Apronia and Tacitus (the historian who documented all this 80 years later) tells us that Silvanus gave an “incoherent” answer in which he claimed that he had been fast asleep the whole time but he assumed his wife had killed herself.

Roman emperor Tiberius (right) and his mother Livia (left) from the site of Paestum in Italy, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid. Miguel Hermoso Cuesta/CC by-SA 4.0

Unfortunately for us, it’s not recorded why he thought his wife might defenestrate herself while he was sleeping. Maybe his snoring was awful. Tiberius didn’t believe him. We know this because he did something really unusual: He went to look at the crime scene.

This is, I believe, the only time in recorded Roman history that an emperor decided to investigate a murder by examining the scene of the crime. These things just didn’t happen in Rome because they didn’t have the same ideas about evidence and crimes that we have. Their murder trials didn’t involve people looking at daggers or gloves or other bits of physical evidence. They just involved people reciting really good speeches at each other, each using the same rhetorical strategies, mostly about the character of the defendant and/or victim and their general demeanor in life rather than the actual events of the case in question, until the jury or judge picked whichever person they liked best. Examining a crime scene wasn’t a particularly important part of that process. Tiberius going off to have a look at the window from which Apronia fell was therefore very surprising. So surprising, in fact, that Silvanus hadn’t even bothered trying to tidy up after the murder had been committed. The emperor was able to see immediately what Tacitus calls “traces of resistance offered and force employed.” Frustratingly, he does not elaborate on what these signs were. Maybe chairs had been flung across the room, or curtains had been torn down, or there was blood on the soft furnishings. This blows my mind a little bit. Silvanus was a rich man. He had a significant household of enslaved people. And yet he apparently didn’t even bother to ask them to tidy up a bit and make it look rather less like there’d been a fatal incident in the bedroom. No one took it upon themselves to have a wee whizz round with a mop while he was out with the emperor. Presumably, no one expected the august Tiberius to take time out of his busy day being in charge of all of Western Europe and North Africa to nip round for a look. No other emperor would have done this, even for their mum’s best friend’s grandson.

Tiberius just loved a mystery. There are lots of nice stories of Tiberius investigating things that interested him. He pops up in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (basically an encyclopedia of everything Pliny could think of) investigating some odd sea monsters who appeared due to an unusual low tide around modern Lyon (including sea-elephants and sea-rams, apparently), and in the wonderfully deranged Phlegon of Tralles’s collection of Greek and Roman marvels, making casts of some giant teeth and bones that had appeared in Turkey. The tooth was a foot long, says Phlegon, and Tiberius had a model of the full-sized giant measured from the tooth, making him, as Stanford historian of ancient science Adrienne Mayor points out, the world’s first paleontologist. (The tooth almost certainly belonged to a megalodon.) Tiberius was basically a wannabe Fox Mulder, wanting to investigate any weird thing that got put in front of him, and that included Silvanus’s incoherent story that his wife spontaneously launched herself out of a window while he was innocently sleeping.

One Italian historian has posited another reason why Tiberius might have found this a particularly interesting case, by suggesting that this Marcus Plautius Silvanus might also be the Servius Plautus recorded by St. Jerome in the fourth century as being guilty of sexually assaulting his own son in A.D. 24. If Servius Plautus and Plautius Silvanus are the same person, then he was one hell of a terrible person. He was a man who was caught somehow sexually assaulting his own son—Jerome offers only that he ”corrupted” his son so details are scarce—and then, while facing prosecution for this, killed his wife by hurling her out of a window. And let’s think about the logistics of that for a second. Stop right now and really think about this. Think about trying to bundle up a grown-ass woman, who is presumably not cooperating, and getting all her limbs out of a window without her holding onto the windowsill. Imagine the very physical, very determined fight you would have to have to do that. Even assuming that he had help, this was a hard way to kill someone. It’s a manner of murder that suggests both a lack of foreplanning and a serious dedication to killing the victim. And if Servius and Silvanus were the same man, perhaps that gave Tiberius (and Apronius) an idea of why he might have murdered Apronia. It’s easy to imagine a wife who is deeply unhappy with her sexually abusive husband and the fight that might arise as a result. The surprising thing is that it would happen within such a “respectable” family home, where emotional control and maintaining face were important cultural behaviors.

An iron dagger from South Tyrol in the early Roman Empire. Artokoloro/Alamy

But apparently it did happen, and Tiberius found the evidence and sent Silvanus to the Senate to be tried officially and sentenced. (He was maintaining a facade of pseudo-democracy at the time.) Silvanus was not destined to face a trial, though. His grandmother Urgulania intervened and politely sent him a dagger. This parcel was taken as a not-very-subtle hint from both his family and the emperor that Silvanus should save everyone some time and money and honorably punish himself with a quick dagger to the heart. Silvanus was not dedicated to the idea of killing himself, probably his most relatable opinion, and after failing to stab himself (again, relatable) he had an enslaved man cut his wrists for him. Whether justice was served is rather a matter of opinion. He lost his life, but there is certainly the feeling that by being allowed to die at home by his own hand and avoid the spectacle of a trial, he rather got away with it. It feels like history let him get away with it a bit, too.


Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus was the third son of Germanicus (nephew of Tiberius) and Agrippina the elder and was born at Antium in AD 12.

It was during his stay with his parents on the German frontier, when he was between two and four, that his miniature versions of military sandals (caligae), caused the soldiers to call him Caligula, ‘little sandal’. It was a nickname which remained with him for the rest of his life.

When he was in his late teens his mother and elder brothers were arrested and died horribly due to the plotting of the praetorian prefect Sejanus. No doubt the horrendous demise of his closest relatives must have had a profound effect on the young Caligula.

Attempting to rid himself of Gaius, Sejanus, under the belief that he may be a potential successor, went too far and was alas arrested and put to death by orders of emperor Tiberius in AD 31.

In the same year Caligula was invested as a priest. From AD 32 onwards he lived on the island of Capreae (Capri) in the emperor’s lush residence and was appointed joint heir with Tiberius Gemellus, son of Drusus the younger. Though by that time Tiberius was in old age and, with Gemellus still a child, it was obvious that it would be Caligula who would truly inherit the power for himself.

By AD 33 he was made quaestor, though was given no further administrative training at all.

Caligula was very tall, with spindly legs and a thin neck. His eyes and temples were sunken and his forehead broad and glowering. His hair was thin and he was bald on top, though he had a hairy body (during his reign it was a crime punishable by death to look down on him as he passed by, or to mention a goat in his presence).

There were rumours surrounding the death of Tiberius. It is very likely that the 77 year-old emperor did simply die of old age.

But one account tells of how Tiberius was thought to have died. Caligula drew the imperial signet ring from his finger and was greeted as emperor by the crowd. Then however news reached the would-be emperor that Tiberius had recovered and was requesting food be brought to him.

Caligula, terrified at any revenge by the emperor returned from the dead, froze on the spot. But Naevius Cordus Sertorius Macro, commander of the praetorians, rushed inside and smothered Tiberius with a cushion, suffocating him.

In any case, with the support of Macro, Caligula was immediately hailed as princeps (‘first citizen’) by the senate (AD 37). No sooner did he get back to Rome the senate bestowed upon him all the powers of imperial office, and – declaring Tiberius’ will invalid – the child Gemellus was not granted his claim to the joint reign.

But it was above all the army which, very loyal to the house of Germanicus, sought to see Caligula as sole ruler.

Caligula quietly dropped an initial request for the deification of the deeply unpopular Tiberius. All around there was much rejoicing at the investment of a new emperor after the dark later years of his predecessor.

Caligula abolished Tiberius’ gruesome treason trials, paid generous bequests to the people of Rome and an especially handsome bonus to the praetorian guard.

There is an amusing anecdote surrounding Caligula’s accession to the throne. For he had a pontoon bridge built leading across the sea from Baiae to Puzzuoli a stretch of water two and a half miles long. The bridge was even covered with earth.

With the bridge in place, Caligula then, in the attire of a Thracian gladiator, mounted a horse a rode across it. Once at one end, he got off his horse and returned on a chariot drawn by two horses. These crossings are said to have lasted for two days.

The historian Suetonius explains that this bizarre behaviour was down to a prediction made by an astrologer called Trasyllus to emperor Tiberius, that ‘Caligula had no more chance of becoming emperor than of crossing the bay of Baiae on horseback’.

Then, only six months later (October AD 37), Caligula fell very ill. His popularity was such that his illness caused great concern throughout the entire empire.

But, when Caligula recovered, he was no longer the same man. Rome soon found itself living in a nightmare. According to the historian Suetonius, Caligula since childhood suffered from epilepsy, known in Roman times as the ‘parliamentary disease’, since it was regarded as an especially bad omen if anyone had a fit while public business was being conducted – Caligula’s very distant cousin, Julius Caesar, also suffered occasional attacks.

This, or some other cause, violently affected his mental state, and he became totally irrational, with delusions not only of grandeur but also of divinity. He now suffered from a chronic inability to sleep, managing only few hours of sleep a night, and then suffering from horrendous nightmares. Often he would wander through the palace waiting for daylight.

Caligula had four wives, three of them during his reign as emperor and he was said to have committed incest with each of his three sisters in turn.

In AD 38 Caligula put to death without trial his principal supporter, the praetorian prefect Macro. The young Tiberius Gemellus suffered the same fate.

Marcus Junius Silanus, the father of the first of Caligula’s wives was compelled to commit suicide. Caligula became ever more unbalanced. Seeing the emperor ordering an altar to be built to himself was worrying to Romans.

But to propose that statues of himself should be erected in synagogues was more than merely worrying. Caligula’s excesses knew no bounds, and he introduced heavy taxation to help pay for his personal expenditure. He also created a new tax on prostitutes and is said to have opened a brothel in a wing of the imperial palace.

All these occurrences naturally alarmed the senate. By now there was no doubt that the emperor of the civilized world was in fact a dangerous madman.

Confirming their worst fears, in AD 39 Caligula announced the revival of the treason trials, the bloodthirsty trials which had given an air of terror to the latter years of Tiberius’ reign.

Caligula also kept his favourite racehorse, Incitatus, inside the palace in a stable box of carved ivory, dressed in purple blankets and collars of precious stones. Dinner guests were invited to the palace in the horse’s name. And the horse, too, was invited to dine with the emperor. Caligula was even said to have considered making the horse consul.

Rumours of disloyalty began to reach an ever more deranged emperor. In the light of this a recently retired governor of Pannonia was ordered to commit suicide.

Then Caligula considered plans to revive the expansionist campaigns of his father Germanicus across the Rhine. But before he left Rome he learnt that the army commander of Upper Germany, Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, was conspiring to have him assassinated.

In spite of this Caligula in September AD 39 set out for Germany, accompanied by a strong detachment of the praetorian guard and his sisters Julia Agrippina, Julia Livilla and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (widower of Caligula’s dead sister Julia Drusilla).

Soon after he had arrived in Germany not only Gaetulicus but also Lepidus were put to death. Julia Agrippina and Julia Livilla were banished and their property seized by the emperor.

The following winter Caligula spent along the Rhine and in Gaul. Neither his planned German campaign nor a proposed military expedition to Britain ever took place. Though there are reports of his soldiers being ordered to gather shells on the shore as trophies for Caligula’s ‘conquest of the sea’.
Meanwhile, a terrified senate granted him all kind of honours for his imaginary victories.

It comes as no surprise then that at least three further conspiracies were soon launched against Caligula’s life. Were some foiled, then alas one succeeded.

Caligula’s suspicion that his joint praetorian prefects, Marcus Arrecinus Clemens and his unknown colleague, were planning his assassination prompted them, in order to avoid their execution, to join a part of senators in a plot.

The conspirators found a willing assassin in the praetorian officer Cassius Chaerea, whom Caligula had openly mocked at court for his effeminacy.

In 24 January AD 41 Cassius Chaerea, together with two military colleagues fell upon the emperor in a corridor of his palace.

Some of his German personal guards rushed to his aid but came too late. Several praetorians then swept through the palace seeking to kill any surviving relatives. Caligula’s fourth wife Caesonia was stabbed to death, her baby daughter’s skull smashed against a wall.

The scene was truly a gruesome one, but it freed Rome from the insane rule of a tyrant.

Roman's palace of deparavity

This was the original pleasure palace. In the sumptuous gardens, young men and women dressed as nubile nymphs and coquettish Pans openly prostituted themselves to guests in woodland 'lechery nooks' beneath the stars.

Inside the imperial cliff-top villa, fortified by the finest food and wines served by nude handmaidens, wanton licence took hold. Troupes of beautiful youths of both sexes, gathered from all corners of the Roman world and trained in unusual sexual practices, reclined in vast marble halls ready to excite the elderly Emperor's flagging libido.

Known as spintriae , their role was to perform erotic sexual practices in groups before the head of the empire - a man who was commonly known by his subjects as 'the old goat'.

Many of the lavish regal rooms were furnished with pornography and explicit sex manuals from Egypt - in case any of their number was unsure precisely what was expected of them.

In a private chamber, the Emperor indulged his most obscene desires to the full. He had little boys trained as minnows or 'tiddlers' to chase him when he went swimming in the imperial pool, nibbling between his legs.

This was the royal residence at Capri, where Tiberius the Tyrant lived a life of extraordinary debauchery. For more than a decade in the early part of the first century AD, this picturesque Italian island was the principal home of the Roman emperor.

Here, he practised lechery and bloodlust in equal measure, hosting endless summer orgies and watching his enemies being tortured before being thrown 300ft off the cliffs into the sea below.

Two thousand years later, Tiberius's villa could be about to fall into the hands of another famous Roman - the equally powerful but distinctly less deviant owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire is said to have set his heart on buying a £21million cliff-top castle on Capri.

Known as Castello Castiglione, it is one of the most desirable properties in the world, with unrivalled views over the Mediterranean. With eight double bedrooms and five bathrooms fitted with the finest Italian marble and gold taps, it is now a haven of tranquillity - but it was not always so.

The estate stands on the grounds where 12 villas were built by Tiberius during his reign from AD14 to 37.

AT RISK of assassination, he chose the site chiefly because the remote location made it easy to defend - but also so that he could indulge his sordid predilections away from prying eyes.

Tiberius was born in 42BC, and torn from his natural father when his ambitious mother Livia cast her first husband aside to marry the Emperor Augustus.

The legendary Emperor adopted the infant as his son, and thus this unlikely ruler - who in his youth was 'grievously afflicted with pimples' - became the second Roman Emperor during his late 50s.

Unquestionably a great military general, Tiberius was a dark, reclusive and sombre leader - 'the gloomiest of men', by one account, who had never really desired to be emperor. Power was forced upon him, however,

events would transform him from a sullen recluse into a despotic and carnal fiend.

Indeed, it was during the brutal reign of Tiberius that Jesus was crucified, under the authority of the Roman governor of Judea at the time, Pontius Pilate.

The first of the tragedies which were to shape the tyrant was an enforced divorce from his wife and the love of his life, Vipsania Agrippina, whom he had married in his late 20s and with whom he had a son, Julius Caesar Drusus. At the time of their enforced split Vipsania was pregnant with their second child. Left alone and bereft, she miscarried the baby.

Tiberius's adoptive father, the Emperor Augustus, ordered him to marry instead Augustus's own recently widowed daughter, Julia the Elder, in order to secure the imperial succession.

Tiberius missed the discarded Vipsania terribly. In a society where marriage for the upper classes was primarily a tool for political advancement, this was seen as a weakness. He was eventually banned by the Emperor Augustus from setting eyes on his first wife again.

The spoilt and wilful Julia was hardly a model replacement for the demure and dutiful Vipsania.

Having previously been married in loveless diplomatic unions to her first cousin at 14 and then to an elderly friend of

her father's, the petulant Julia was pursuing a life of hedonistic abandon. Aged 27, she bore Tiberius a son, who died in infancy. Tiberius was sent to war, and Julia apparently took full advantage of his absence. A predatory, drunken

nymphomaniac, she once gave herself to a lover on the sacred speaker's rostrum of the forum.

She had a particular fetish for dwarfs, and one accompanied her wherever she went. When Tiberius returned from Gaul in 7BC, he found his wife's outrageous behaviour was the talk of Rome and his house was being used as a brothel.

Historians of the period note that Julia was extremely beautiful and graceful. Used to the imperial life, her extravagance knew no bounds.

SENECA records that she had 'covered the imperial home with scandal: lovers admitted in droves, nightly orgies throughout the city, daily meetings beside the statue of Marsyas, where, worse than an adulteress, a mere prostitute, she claimed her right to every shamelesness in the arms of the first passer-by.'

Eventually, her conduct could no longer be concealed from her hithand erto doting father. He wrote a bill of divorce for Tiberius and banished his daughter to a remote island.

Publicly humiliated by his wife's antics, Tiberius retired to Rhodes, not returning to Rome until AD2 when he was made Augustus's heir. It was at this point that his own excesses became public knowledge. Stories of his heavy drinking were already commonplace, as were tales of his brutality.

He eventually became Emperor in AD14 at the age of 56. Before the old Emperor's body was cold, Tiberius had ordered the execution of Augustus's young grandson and son of the disgraced Julia's first marriage to her cousin - presumably in case he became a rival.

A mathematician who displeased Tiberius was beaten to death and decapitated.

But Tiberius' real reign of terror began after his adored son Drusus was murdered in AD23. The killer was Sejanus, Tiberius's sycophantic adjunct and only trusted friend. Sejanus seemingly poisoned Drusus in desperation, having seduced his wife Livilla, believing he was about to be found out.

The vengeance of Tiberius was terrible. Sejanus was killed after being tortured and dragged through the streets of Rome.

Next, according to the historian Tacitus, writing some 70 years after Tiberius's reign, the Emperor ordered revenge against Sejanus's

young children, a boy and a girl. Tacitus quoted contemporary writers who reported that, because capital punishment of a virgin was unprecedented, the daughter was violated by the executioner. Then both children were strangled and their young bodies thrown on the Gemonian Steps.

Frenzied with bloodlust, the Emperor next ordered the execution of all those associated with Sejanus. Heaps of victims lay in the streets, with relatives forbidden to give the rotting bodies a proper burial.

In AD26, Tiberius retreated to the island of Capri, never to return to Rome - according to Tacitus, in order to indulge his carnal desire. There, he established a new office, master of the imperial pleasures, whose job was to gather the most beautiful youngsters in the land together, for the Emperor to defile.

While the Emperor indulged himself, the work of government back in Rome suffered. The Senate was unaccustomed to acting without the Emperor. Tiberius became increasingly withdrawn from public life and it was the machinery of Augustus's administration that kept the Empire running smoothly, rather than the Emperor himself.

His lusts reached ever lower depths and he preyed on the children who lived in and around his court. Tacitus tells us 'new names for types of perversions were invented', such was Tiberius's depravity. Tiberius hired slaves to find him children to satisfy his urges. These agents were entirely above the law and they kidnapped victims if parents or relations put up a fight. Some even violated the children before they reached their lustful master. It was, says Tacitus, 'like the sack of a captured city'.

His main villa occupied an extraordinary panoramic position over the Gulf of Naples, and was thronged with handmaidens and courtiers, all attendent to his every whim - however corrupt.

HIS gardens, where he arranged 'a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls solicited outside bowers and grottos', were called by locals 'the old goat's garden', punning on Capri's name, which translates as 'goat island'.

His particular fantasy, which small boys were taught to carry out, was to swim in the blue, lukewarm waters of the Capri grottos surrounded by lascivious

youngsters swimming like little fish alongside an old shark, licking and nibbling at his private parts.

He was also a sexual voyeur and enjoyed watching groups of youngsters copulate before him.

Once, at a religious sacrifice on Capri, driven to a frenzy by the

beauty of the priest's assistant, he lost control of himself in the temple and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and debauched him and his brother, the flute-player, too. Subsequently, when they complained of the assault, he had their legs broken.

Women were also of interest to him - no matter how unwilling they were. One historian,

Suetonius, says: 'How grossly he was in the habit of abusing women even of high birth is very clearly shown by the death of a certain Mallonia.

'When she was brought to his bed and refused most vigorously to submit to his lust, he turned her over to the informers, and even when she was on trial he did not cease to call out and ask her "whether she was sorry" so that finally she left the court and went home, where she stabbed herself, openly upbraiding the ugly old man for his obscenity.'

Increasingly ravaged by the years and his vile excesses, Tiberius had certainly become the most unattractive of men. His oncehandsome face was disfigured by a form of eczema and covered with blotches, scars and the unguents prescribed by his physicians.

Brutality, too, marked his years in exile. When his litter was struck by a bush, he had the centurion who had been sent ahead to clear the way stretched out and flogged half to death before him. Facing the

Emperor's apartments was a precipice called Tiberius Fall, because from it, he would dispense with unwelcome visitors or disobedient servants. Tiberius would watch as they fell towards the sparking water, and their bodies were mutilated at the bottom of the cliff by armed soldiers.

Suetonius says: 'Among various forms of torture he had devised this one: he would trick men into loading themselves with copious draughts of wine, and then on a sudden tying up their private parts, would torment them at the same time by the torture of the cords and of the stoppage of their water.'

Tiberius died at the age of 78, during the 23rd year of his reign. It is said that he was eventually smothered beneath a pile of mattresses, although there are other accounts that he was poisoned by his heir, Caligula.

Tiberius's demise was met with widespread celebration in Rome.

According to Suetonius: 'The people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting "To the Tiber with Tiberius!" referring to a form of punishment reserved only for common criminals - that their corpses would be thrown straight into the River Tiber, without the dignity of a resting place.

'Others prayed to Mother Earth to "allow the dead man no abode except among the damned".'


Agrippa was born between 64 and 62 BC, [4] in an uncertain location. [1] Based on primary sources regarding his death, scholars have agreed upon the year of Agrippa's birth to have occurred during the consulship of M. Tullius Cicero, in 63 BC, the same year Octavian was born. [5] His father was called Lucius Vipsanius. [6] He had an elder brother whose name was also Lucius Vipsanius, and a sister named Vipsania Polla. His family originated in the Italian countryside, and was of humble and plebeian origins. They had not been prominent in Roman public life. [7] According to some scholars, including Victor Gardthausen, R. E. A. Palmer, and David Ridgway, Agrippa's family was originally from Pisa in Etruria. [8] [9]

Agrippa was about the same age as Octavian (the future emperor Augustus), and the two were educated together and became close friends. Despite Agrippa's association with the family of Julius Caesar, his elder brother chose another side in the civil wars of the 40s BC, fighting under Cato against Caesar in Africa. When Cato's forces were defeated, Agrippa's brother was taken prisoner but freed after Octavian interceded on his behalf. [10]

It is not known whether Agrippa fought against his brother in Africa, but he probably served in Caesar's campaign of 46 to 45 BC against Gnaeus Pompeius, which culminated in the Battle of Munda. [11] Caesar regarded him highly enough to send him with Octavius in 45 BC to study in Apollonia (on the Illyrian coast) with the Macedonian legions, while Caesar consolidated his power in Rome. [12] In the fourth month of their stay in Apollonia the news of Julius Caesar's assassination in March 44 BC reached them. Agrippa and another friend, Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, advised Octavius to march on Rome with the troops from Macedonia, but Octavius decided to sail to Italy with a small retinue. After his arrival, he learned that Caesar had adopted him as his legal heir. [13] Octavius at this time took Caesar's name, but modern historians refer to him as "Octavian" during this period.

After Octavian's return to Rome, he and his supporters realised they needed the support of legions. Agrippa helped Octavian to levy troops in Campania. [14] Once Octavian had his legions, he made a pact with Mark Antony and Lepidus, legally established in 43 BC as the Second Triumvirate. Octavian and his consular colleague Quintus Pedius arranged for Caesar's assassins to be prosecuted in their absence, and Agrippa was entrusted with the case against Gaius Cassius Longinus. [15] It may have been in the same year that Agrippa began his political career, holding the position of Tribune of the Plebs, which granted him entry to the Senate. [16]

In 42 BC, Agrippa probably fought alongside Octavian and Antony in the Battle of Philippi. [17] After their return to Rome, he played a major role in Octavian's war against Lucius Antonius and Fulvia, respectively the brother and wife of Mark Antony, which began in 41 BC and ended in the capture of Perusia in 40 BC. However, Salvidienus remained Octavian's main general at this time. [18] After the Perusine war, Octavian departed for Gaul, leaving Agrippa as urban praetor in Rome with instructions to defend Italy against Sextus Pompeius, an opponent of the Triumvirate who was now occupying Sicily. In July 40, while Agrippa was occupied with the Ludi Apollinares that were the praetor's responsibility, Sextus began a raid in southern Italy. Agrippa advanced on him, forcing him to withdraw. [19] However, the Triumvirate proved unstable, and in August 40 both Sextus and Antony invaded Italy (but not in an organized alliance). Agrippa's success in retaking Sipontum from Antony helped bring an end to the conflict. [20] Agrippa was among the intermediaries through whom Antony and Octavian agreed once more upon peace. During the discussions Octavian learned that Salvidienus had offered to betray him to Antony, with the result that Salvidienus was prosecuted and either executed or committed suicide. Agrippa was now Octavian's leading general. [21]

In 39 or 38 BC, Octavian appointed Agrippa governor of Transalpine Gaul, where in 38 BC he put down a rising of the Aquitanians. He also fought the Germanic tribes, becoming the next Roman general to cross the Rhine after Julius Caesar. [22] He was summoned back to Rome by Octavian to assume the consulship for 37 BC. He was well below the usual minimum age of 43, but Octavian had suffered a humiliating naval defeat against Sextus Pompey and needed his friend to oversee the preparations for further warfare. Agrippa refused the offer of a triumph for his exploits in Gaul – on the grounds, says Dio, that he thought it improper to celebrate during a time of trouble for Octavian. [23] Since Sextus Pompeius had command of the sea on the coasts of Italy, Agrippa's first care was to provide a safe harbour for Octavian's ships. He accomplished this by cutting through the strips of land which separated the Lacus Lucrinus from the sea, thus forming an outer harbour, while joining the lake Avernus to the Lucrinus to serve as an inner harbor. [24] The new harbor-complex was named Portus Julius in Octavian's honour. [25] Agrippa was also responsible for technological improvements, including larger ships and an improved form of grappling hook. [26] About this time, he married Caecilia Pomponia Attica, daughter of Cicero's friend Titus Pomponius Atticus. [27]

In 36 BC, Octavian and Agrippa set sail against Sextus. The fleet was badly damaged by storms and had to withdraw Agrippa was left in charge of the second attempt. Thanks to superior technology and training, Agrippa and his men won decisive victories at Mylae and Naulochus, destroying all but seventeen of Sextus' ships and compelling most of his forces to surrender. Octavian, with his power increased, forced the triumvir Lepidus into retirement and entered Rome in triumph. [28] Agrippa received the unprecedented honour of a naval crown decorated with the beaks of ships as Dio remarks, this was "a decoration given to nobody before or since". [29]

Agrippa participated in smaller military campaigns in 35 and 34 BC, but by the autumn of 34, he had returned to Rome. [30] He rapidly set out on a campaign of public repairs and improvements, including renovation of the aqueduct known as the Aqua Marcia and an extension of its pipes to cover more of the city. He became the first water commissioner of Rome in 33 BC. [31] Through his actions after being elected in 33 BC as one of the aediles (officials responsible for Rome's buildings and festivals), the streets were repaired and the sewers were cleaned out, and lavish public spectacles were held. [32] Agrippa signalled his tenure of office by effecting great improvements in the city of Rome, restoring and building aqueducts, enlarging and cleansing the Cloaca Maxima, constructing baths and porticos, and laying out gardens. He also gave a stimulus to the public exhibition of works of art. It was unusual for an ex-consul to hold the lower-ranking position of aedile, [33] but Agrippa's success bore out that break with tradition. As emperor, Augustus would later boast that "he had found the city of brick but left it of marble" in part because of the great services provided by Agrippa under his reign.

Agrippa was again called away to take command of the fleet when the war with Antony and Cleopatra broke out. He captured the strategically important city of Methone at the southwest of the Peloponnese, then sailed north, raiding the Greek coast and capturing Corcyra (modern Corfu). Octavian then brought his forces to Corcyra, occupying it as a naval base. [34] Antony drew up his ships and troops at Actium, where Octavian moved to meet him. Agrippa meanwhile defeated Antony's supporter Quintus Nasidius in a naval battle at Patrae. [35] Dio relates that as Agrippa moved to join Octavian near Actium, he encountered Gaius Sosius, one of Antony's lieutenants, who was making a surprise attack on the squadron of Lucius Tarius, a supporter of Octavian. Agrippa's unexpected arrival turned the battle around. [36]

As the decisive battle approached, according to Dio, Octavian received intelligence that Antony and Cleopatra planned to break past his naval blockade and escape. At first he wished to allow the flagships past, arguing that he could overtake them with his lighter vessels and that the other opposing ships would surrender when they saw their leaders' cowardice. Agrippa objected, saying that Antony's ships, although larger, could outrun Octavian's if they hoisted sails, and that Octavian ought to fight now because Antony's fleet had just been struck by storms. Octavian followed his friend's advice. [37]

On September 2, 31 BC, the Battle of Actium was fought. Octavian's victory, which gave him the mastery of Rome and the empire, was mainly due to Agrippa. [38] Octavian then bestowed upon him the hand of his niece Claudia Marcella Major in 28 BC. He also served a second consulship with Octavian the same year. [39] In 27 BC, Agrippa held a third consulship with Octavian, [39] and in that year, the senate also bestowed upon Octavian the imperial title of Augustus.

In commemoration of the Battle of Actium, Agrippa built and dedicated the building that served as the Roman Pantheon before its destruction in AD 80. Emperor Hadrian used Agrippa's design to build his own Pantheon, which survives in Rome. The inscription of the later building, which was built around 125, preserves the text of the inscription from Agrippa's building during his third consulship. The years following his third consulship, Agrippa spent in Gaul, reforming the provincial administration and taxation system, along with building an effective road system and aqueducts. [ citation needed ]

Agrippa's friendship with Augustus seems to have been clouded by the jealousy of Augustus' nephew and son-in-law Marcus Claudius Marcellus, which was probably instigated by the intrigues of Livia, the third wife of Augustus, who feared Agrippa's influence over her husband. [40] Traditionally it is said the result of such jealousy was that Agrippa left Rome, ostensibly to take over the governorship of eastern provinces – a sort of honourable exile, but he only sent his legate to Syria, while he himself remained at Lesbos and governed by proxy, [40] though he may have been on a secret mission to negotiate with the Parthians about the return of the Roman legions' standards which they held. [41] On the death of Marcellus, which took place within a year of his exile, he was recalled to Rome by Augustus, who found he could not dispense with his services. However, if one places the events in the context of the crisis of 23 BC it seems unlikely that, when facing significant opposition and about to make a major political climb down, the emperor Augustus would place a man in exile in charge of the largest body of Roman troops. What is far more likely is that Agrippa's 'exile' was actually the careful political positioning of a loyal lieutenant in command of a significant army as a backup plan in case the settlement plans of 23 BC failed and Augustus needed military support. [42] Moreover, after 23 BC as part of what became known as Augustus' Second Constitutional Settlement, Agrippa's constitutional powers were greatly increased to provide the Principate of Augustus with greater constitutional stability by providing for a political heir or replacement for Augustus if he were to succumb to his habitual ill health or was assassinated. In the course of the year, proconsular imperium, similar to Augustus' power, was conferred upon Agrippa for five years. The exact nature of the grant is uncertain but it probably covered Augustus' imperial provinces, east and west, perhaps lacking authority over the provinces of the Senate. That was to come later, as was the jealously guarded tribunicia potestas, or powers of a tribune of the plebeians. [43] These great powers of state are not usually heaped upon a former exile.

It is said that Maecenas advised Augustus to attach Agrippa still more closely to him by making him his son-in-law. [44] Accordingly, by 21 BC, he induced Agrippa to divorce Marcella and marry his daughter, Julia the Elder—the widow of Marcellus, [45] equally celebrated for her beauty, abilities, and her shameless extravagance. In 19 BC, Agrippa was employed in putting down a rising of the Cantabrians in Hispania (Cantabrian Wars). [40]

In 18 BC, Agrippa's powers were even further increased to almost match those of Augustus. That year his proconsular imperium was augmented to cover the provinces of the Senate. More than that, he was finally granted tribunicia potestas, or powers of a tribune of the plebeians. As was the case with Augustus, Agrippa's grant of tribunician powers was conferred without his having to actually hold that office. [46] These powers were considerable, giving him veto power over the acts of the Senate or other magistracies, including those of other tribunes, and the power to present laws for approval by the People. Just as important, a tribune's person was sacred, meaning that any person who harmfully touched them or impeded their actions, including political acts, could lawfully be killed. [47] After the grant of these powers Agrippa was, on paper, almost as powerful as Augustus was. However, there was no doubt that Augustus was the man in charge.

Agrippa was appointed governor of the eastern provinces a second time in 17 BC, where his just and prudent administration won him the respect and good-will of the provincials, especially from the Jewish population. [40] Agrippa also restored effective Roman control over the Cimmerian Chersonnese (Crimean Peninsula) during his governorship.

Agrippa's last public service was his beginning of the conquest of the upper Danube River region, which would become the Roman province of Pannonia in 13 BC. [48] He died at Campania in 12 BC at the age of 50–52. His posthumous son, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa Postumus, was named in his honor. Augustus honoured his memory by a magnificent funeral and spent over a month in mourning. Augustus personally oversaw all of Agrippa's children's educations. Although Agrippa had built a tomb for himself, Augustus had Agrippa's remains placed in Augustus' own mausoleum. [49]

In addition to being an accomplished general, Agrippa was also known as a writer, especially on the subject of geography. [40] Under his supervision, Julius Caesar's dream of having a complete survey of the Empire made was carried out. Agrippa constructed a circular chart, which was later engraved on marble by Augustus, and afterwards placed in the colonnade built by his sister Polla. [40] Amongst his writings, an autobiography, now lost, is referenced. [40]

Agrippa established a standard for Roman foot (Agrippa's own) in 29 BC, [50] and thus a definition of a pace as 5 feet. An imperial Roman mile denotes 5,000 Roman feet.

The term Via Agrippa is used for any part of the network of roadways in Gaul built by Agrippa. Some of these still exist as paths or even as highways.

Marriages and issue Edit

Agrippa had several children through his three marriages:

  • By his first wife, Caecilia Attica, he had one or probably two daughters, Vipsania Agrippina Major who married Quintus Haterius and Vipsania Agrippina Minor, who married the future emperor Tiberius.
  • By his second wife, Claudia Marcella Major, Agrippa probably had one or two daughters named Vipsania Marcella. [51]One of them likely married Publius Quinctilius Varus and the other likely married Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.
  • By his third wife, Julia the Elder (daughter of Augustus), he had five children: Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, Agrippina the Elder (wife of Germanicus, mother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger), and Agrippa Postumus (a posthumous son).

Through his numerous children, Agrippa would become ancestor to many subsequent members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, whose position he helped to attain, as well as many other distinguished Romans.

  • (with Caecilia Attica)
    • 1. Vipsania
      • A. Decimus Haterius Agrippa
        • I. Quintus Haterius Antoninus
        • A. Drusus Julius Caesar, 13 BC – AD 23, had 3 children
          • I. Julia Livia, AD 5–43, had at least 1 child
            • a. Rubellius Plautus, AD 33–62, may have had several children, but none of them survived Nero's purges in 66.
            • a. Asinia Agrippina
            • 3. Vipsania Marcella Major
              • A. Sextus Nonius Quinctilianus
                • I. Sextus Nonius Quinctilianus
                • A. Aemilius Agrippa
                • B. Aemilia Lepida
                • 5. Gaius Julius Caesar, 20 BC – AD 4, died without issue
                • 6. Vipsania Julia Agrippina (Julia the Younger), 19 BC – AD 28, had two children
                  • A. Aemilia Lepida (fiancee of Claudius), 4 BC – AD 53, had five children
                    • I. Marcus Junius Silanus Torquatus, 14–54, had one child
                      • a. Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus the younger, 50–66, died young
                      • A. Nero Julius Caesar Germanicus, 6–30, died without issue
                      • B. Drusus Julius Caesar Germanicus, 7–33, died without issue
                      • C. Gaius Julius Caesar, bef. AD 12 – bef. AD 12 [56]
                      • D. Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus (Caligula), 12–41, had one child
                        • I. Julia Drusilla, 39–41, died young
                        • I. Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus), 37–68, had one child
                          • a. Claudia Augusta, Jan. 63 – April 63 died young

                          There have been some attempts to assign further descendants to a number of the aforementioned figures, including two lines of Asinii descended from Gaius Asinius Pollio and Marcus Asinius Agrippa respectively. A daughter (and further descendants) named Rubellia Bassa to Julia, who may have been a daughter of Gaius Rubellius Blandus by an earlier marriage. And, finally, a series of descendants from Junia Lepida and her husband, Gaius Cassius Longinus. However, all of these lines of descent are extremely hypothetical and lack any evidence to support a connection to the descendants of Agrippa. [ citation needed ]

                          Drama Edit

                          A fictional version of Agrippa in his later life played a prominent role in the 1976 BBC Television series I, Claudius. Agrippa was portrayed as a much older man though he would been only 39 years old at the time of the first episode (24/23 BC). He was played by John Paul.

                          Agrippa is the main character in Paul Naschy's 1980 film Los cántabros, played by Naschy himself. It is a highly fictionalized version of the Cantabrian Wars in which Agrippa is depicted as the lover of the sister of Cantabrian leader Corocotta.

                          Agrippa appears in several film versions of the life of Cleopatra. He is normally portrayed as an old man, rather than a young one. Among the people to portray him are Philip Locke, Alan Rowe, and Andrew Keir.

                          Agrippa is also one of the principal characters in the British/Italian joint project Imperium: Augustus (2003) featuring flashbacks between Augustus and Julia about Agrippa, which shows him in his youth on serving in Caesar's army up until his victory at Actium and the defeat of Cleopatra. He is portrayed by Ken Duken. In the 2005 series Empire the young Agrippa (played by Christopher Egan) becomes Octavian's sidekick after saving him from an attempted poisoning.

                          Marcus Agrippa, a highly fictional character based on Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa's early life, is part of the BBC-HBO-RAI television series Rome. He is played by Allen Leech. He describes himself as the grandson of a slave. The series creates a romantic relationship between Agrippa and Octavian's sister Octavia Minor, for which there is no historical evidence.

                          In the TV series Domina (2021), Agrippa was played by Oliver Huntingdon and Ben Batt.

                          Literature Edit

                          Agrippa is mentioned by name in book VIII of Virgil's The Aeneid, where Aeneas sees an image of Agrippa leading ships in the Battle of Actium on the shield forged for him by Vulcan and given to him by his mother, Venus. [59]

                          Agrippa is a main character in the early part of Robert Graves' novel I, Claudius. He is a main character in the later two novels of Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. He is a featured character of prominence and importance in the historical fiction novel Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran. He also features prominently in John Edward Williams' historical novel Augustus. In the backstory of Gunpowder Empire, the first volume in Harry Turtledove's Crosstime Traffic alternate history series, Agrippa lived until AD 26, conquering all of Germania for the Empire and becoming the second Emperor when Augustus died in AD 14.


                          Background information

                          Like his counterpart, the mirror Kirk was played by William Shatner.

                          Had a would-be Shatner guest appearance on Star Trek: Enterprise come to fruition, mirror Kirk would have come aboard Enterprise (with a revelation that victims of the Tantalus field – used by Spock soon after his return – are displaced in time, not killed) in the hopes of using the transporter to return to his universe – which, in the process, he and an unwitting Archer would have created in the first place. [1] (X)


                          According to the IDW comic Hell's Mirror, the mirror universe James T. Kirk was born into poverty under a George and Winona Kirk who yielded to the Empire's cruel demands. In secret, they raised him with many of the same values his Prime counterpart was raised with, emphasizing a love of literature and art, especially focusing upon heroic narratives such as the one told in the book The Once and Future King. At some point, however, his home was burned down by enforcers of the Empire, and Kirk was carted off to be brainwashed at a reeducation camp. Even during the era of his Enterprise captaincy, Kirk held on to those memories, in secret keeping a banned copy of The Once and Future King among his personal belongings.

                          In the short story "The Greater Good" contained in the anthology Shards and Shadows, the mirror universe James T. Kirk, who was then a lieutenant, served aboard the ISS Farragut in 2264. Captain Garrovick took great pleasure in humiliating him in front of the entire crew. In revenge, Kirk arranged for Garrovick and two hundred of his crew to be killed by a dikironium cloud creature. He later claimed that he slept sounder the night after Garrovick's death than he had in years.

                          According to the novel Dark Victory, Kirk stole the Tantalus field from a mirror version of Balok during an encounter between the Terran Empire and the First Federation, similar to the exchange observed in " The Corbomite Maneuver ". In contrast, in the short story "The Greater Good" from Shards and Shadows, Kirk obtained the device from Dr. Simon Van Gelder at the Tantalus penal colony and used it to assassinate Captain Pike to become captain.

                          Marvel Comics' "Fragile Glass", a sequel to "Mirror, Mirror", depicts Spock assassinating the mirror Kirk in short order after the return from the crossover. The novella (later novel) "The Sorrows of Empire" shows that after Kirk's return to his universe, Spock attempted to dissuade him from destroying the Halkans, showing that if they did, it would in fact, be even more difficult for the Empire to get the dilithium, but Kirk refused and destroyed the Halkan civilization anyway. Shortly after, Kirk was strangled to death by Spock in his own quarters, and Marlena vaporized his body with the Tantalus field. Decipher's Mirror Universe also had Kirk assassinated after his return.

                          However, DC Comics' The Mirror Universe Saga and Pocket TNG: Dark Mirror by Diane Duane both depict Kirk surviving, as well as the Empire in its current form. The latter actually depicts an Empire in the Star Trek: The Next Generation-era, something that did not occur in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine version of events. In DC's comic arc, Kirk finally fell victim to arrogance when he was executed, along with his staff, for the crimes of his duplicate from "our" creation, after Kirk tried to invade this universe's Federation.

                          In the Star Trek: The Mirror Universe Trilogy novels of William Shatner and co-writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, the mirror Kirk survives well into the 24th century via hibernation sleep (unlike his counterpart, who had to die twice to get into the 24th century). This version of events, which ties closely to the canon DS9 version, depicts Kirk as a madman who rose to ultimate power as the Emperor Tiberius I, with the help of Intendant Spock. Meanwhile, Spock had been fulfilling his promise and attempted to change the Empire from the inside, using Kirk's power, before his betrayal. Afterward, it is revealed that it was former Emperor Tiberius that brought together the Klingons and the Cardassians into a formidable alliance before his eventual disappearance for 78 years.

                          the Mirror version of James T. Kirk as depicted in the alternate reality.

                          In an alternate reality version of the mirror universe, James T. Kirk ( β ) was featured in issues fifteen and sixteen of the Star Trek: Ongoing comic series. Kirk was depicted as being first officer on the ISS Enterprise ( β ) under the command of Captain Spock ( β ).

                          In Parallel Lives, Part 2, the mirror Kirk of the Prime Timeline appears when an anomaly called a "quantum storm" causes the crew of the USS Enterprise to meet gender-swapped versions of themselves and the quantum storm starts pulling in Enterprise crewmembers from infinite realities, with the mirror Kirk being pulled in and appearing next to Kirk and asking who he is and how he got on his ship before being pulled back into his reality.

                          A second alternate mirror universe counterpart of Kirk appeared in the three-issue story arc Lost Images. This Kirk was depicted as being captain of the ISS Enterprise before that version of Spock mutinied against him. He later regained command of the Enterprise through the help of that universe's Khan Noonien Singh and the prime alternate reality version of Kirk.

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