Tiberius Caesar has gone down in history as one of the most notorious of Rome’s early emperors.
The stories that surround him are both scandalous and salacious, as shocking to our modern sensibilities as they were to his contemporaries.
But what made his private life so perverted? How did he abuse his absolute power? And who was the man behind the myth?
Who was Tiberius Caesar?
Tiberius was Rome’s second emperor, coming to power when his predecessor Augustus died in 14 AD at the ripe old age of 75.
The circumstances surrounding his succession were murky. Tiberius was not Augustus’ first choice as heir to the throne of ancient Rome. But the young men Augustus had groomed for the throne – Gaius, Lucius, and Marcellus – died in mysterious circumstances. Many pointed the finger at Augustus’ wife and Tiberius’ mother, Livia, accusing her of poisoning these men or arranging for their deaths. Whatever truth lies behind these allegations, by the time of Augustus’ death Tiberius was the only choice left.
As a young man, Tiberius was relatively restrained. He excelled as a soldier and commander, leading Roman forces to victory in Armenia and Germany. But while he excelled away on campaign, he hated being back in Rome, being forced into the spotlight as amidst the prying eyes of the capital as a potential heir apparent.
In 6 BC he retired from public life to the Greek island of Rhodes, where he pursued the study of Greek philosophy and rhetoric. Ostensibly, the reason for his retirement was his hatred of his wife, Julia the Elder, who Tiberius resented for stealing him away from his first wife (and true love) Vipsania Agrippina. In reality, however, he was biding his time to see how the succession played out, panicking the aging Augustus who still had no clear successor.