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Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (November 16, 42 BCMarch 16, AD 37) was the second Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruling from AD 14 until his death. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian—son of Tiberius Nero and Livia—and was the adopted heir of Augustus, who was a Julian. The subsequent emperors who were related in varying degrees to both families were members of this blended dynasty.



Tiberius received his position through his mother, who was Augustus's second wife. Tiberius became one of his step-father's principal lieutenants, leading military campaigns in Germany and on the Danube. In pursuance of their family policy, he was compelled by politics in 12 BC to divorce his first wife, Vipsania, daughter of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and marry Julia, daughter of Augustus and widow of the same Agrippa (and, thus, his own step-sister and his first wife's step-mother), but that marriage failed. Tiberius went into self-imposed exile on Rhodes.

He returned several years later, following the death of Julia's sons by Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius, and was made Augustus's heir. When he became Emperor following Augustus's death in AD 14, the saturnine Tiberius quickly became unpopular, and when his nephew Germanicus was murdered in the East in AD 19, suspicions were voiced that Tiberius had had a role in his death.

Tiberius spent much of the latter part of his reign in self-exile on the island of Capri. The city of Rome was controlled in his place by Sejanus, the head of the Praetorian Guards. Sejanus, who was rumored to have poisoned Tiberius's only son, Drusus in AD 23, and certainly carried on an affair with Drusus's widow, Tiberius's niece Livilla, launched a reign of terror against possible political enemies. Germanicus's widow, Agrippina, and her elder sons, Nero Caesar and Drusus, were exiled to small islands, where they died.

Sejanus, in fact, plotted to take control of the Empire, but his plans were foiled thanks to a timely warning to Tiberius from his sister-in-law, Antonia, and instead Sejanus and his supporters were arrested and executed in AD 31.

After having most of his potential successors killed, Tiberius summoned his grand-nephew Caligula and grandson Gemellus to Capri. Suetonius writes how Tiberius engaged in extreme sexual perversions on Capri, but he is an often-unreliable source and it is unknown if his reports are true.

Tiberius died on March 16, AD 37. Ancient sources like Suetonius and Tacitus report that Caligula and/or his guard Macro smothered Tiberius with a pillow. Most likely Tiberius died a natural death.

In his will Tiberius left the empire to both Caligula and Gemellus, but soon after becoming Emperor, Caligula had Tiberius's will declared void and later had Gemellus killed.

Continuing Legacy

A bust of younger Emperor Tiberius
A bust of younger Emperor Tiberius

In the Bible, Tiberius is mentioned by name only once, in Luke 3:1 (stating that John the Baptist entered on his public ministry in the fifteenth year of his reign). However, since it was during his reign that Jesus preached, many references to Caesar (or the emperor in some other translations), without further specification, actually refer to Tiberius.

The town Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was named in Tiberius's honour by Herod Antipas.

Tiberius has appeared in the movies Ben-Hur, Caligula (played by Peter O'Toole), and I, Claudius (played by George Baker).

In the popular science-fiction television show "Star Trek", Captain James T. Kirk's middle name is Tiberius; according to the series, Kirk's grandfather was a historian fascinated by the emperor.

In the Command & Conquer series of computer games, the fictional power-crystal Tiberium that fuels much of the plot was (according to some sources) named after the emperor. There is also a series of Command & Conquer games named after the Tiberian Sun. However, it is not known if the Tiberian Sun was named after Tiberius.

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Last updated: 06-01-2005 16:33:23
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