As you might recall from our last series, Tiberius came from several impressive families.
He was, of course, the adopted son of Augustus, and therefore a Caesar.
He was also a Claudian via his father.
The Claudians were one of the most prominent patrician houses at Rome.
The gens traced its origin to the earliest days of the Roman Republic.
The family produced their first consul in 495 BCE.
And Suetonius says, “as time went on it was honoured with twenty-eight consulships, five dictatorships, seven censorships, six triumphs, and two ovations.”
On his mother’s side, he was part of the Livii family.
Suetonius: This family too, though of plebeian origin, was yet of great prominence and had been honoured with eight consulships, two censorships, and three triumphs, as well as with the offices of dictator and master of the horse.
Tiberius was 56 years old when Augustus died.
The Senate moved quickly to confirm him as the sole princeps.
The consuls Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius were the first to take an oath of loyalty to him.
Followed by the praetorian prefect L. Seius Strabo – father of the infamous Lucius Aelius Sejanus, who comes into the story shortly too – and the prefect of the corn supply Turranius.
The order in which this occurred – the senate after the two prefects – shows how much significance was attached to the office of Praetorian prefect as head of the Emperor’s personal guard at this stage.
The Senate and army and people followed suit.
Tibbo wrote to the senate, claiming the right to escort Augustus’ body to Rome and summoning a meeting to be held on his arrival to discuss the honours due to the princeps’ memory.
When the Senate met, Tibbo tried to give a speech but he was too emotional.
Instead he handed over the bulk of his speech to Drusus, his son, to read.
I read out DIO’s version of Tiberius’ eulogy in our last episode of the Augustus series, so I won’t repeat it here.
But it’s worth remembering that Augustus’ last will was read out, and in it he said ‘Since cruel fate has torn from me my sons Gaius and Lucius, let Tiberius Caesar be my heir. . . .’
In other words, I REALLY wish I had another option, but I don’t – sorry guys, Tibbo is the new me. It sucks, I know. Trust me. I wish there was another way.
A weird incident we didn’t mention last time happened during this session.
A senator called Messalla Messallinus – or just Mess Mess to his friends – proposed that the oath of loyalty to Tiberius should be renewed each year.
Mess Mess wasn’t a hobo.
He’d been consul in 4 BCE.
He’d then been governor in Illyricum.
During that time he’d served with Tiberius with some distinction during the Great Illyrian Revolt.
Anyway, on this occasion, he suggests they renew their oaths to Tiberius each year and Tibbo, for some reason, angrily asked if Mess Mess was suggesting that this was all Tibbo’s own idea.
Mess Mess said … umm no, dude, I just thought of it myself.
Tibbo was all like “well… just don’t go around suggesting that I’m that fucking needy.”
Then, on 17 September, the senate met again to consecrate Augustus as a god.
When this had been done, a motion was brought by the consuls to determine Tiberius’ position.
The details of this meeting haven’t come down to us, which is a tragedy.
But we can assume a few things.
One is that he already had imperium including inside the city.
At the time of Augustus’ death Tiberius held both proconsular imperium and tribunician power.
He must have had imperium in the city too because that explains why the prefects swore him an oath of loyalty.
They got their power directly from Augustus and that power would have expired when he died.
Strabo after all was the head of the Praetorian guard.
So it makes sense that they came to Tibbo to get him to renew their power.
By the way, around this time, Tibbo makes Strabo’s son, Sejanus, the co-leader of the Praetorian guard.
There can be no doubt whatever that during his principate Tiberius’ imperium was valid inside the city.
Dio speaks of him administering justice in the Forum.
He could only do that if he had imperium
Tacitus and Dio also say that when he visited the praetors’ courts he took a seat at the side of the tribunal so as not to make the praetor vacate his official chair.
This implies that Tiberius had the right to take the praetor’s chair; he must therefore have held imperium greater than a praetor’s.
There was then no formal need for a consular motion to confer on Tiberius the powers held by Augustus – he possessed them all already, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that Augustus’ death had terminated their validity or even brought it into question.
He may have laid his powers down and the Senate confirmed them – or they just confirmed them as is.
Whatever the case – they confirmed them.
But it wasn’t powers that Tiberius lacked – it was a province.
Back in 13, when his imperium had been made equal to that of Augustus, the provinces of the empire had still been divided between Augustus and the senate.
Augustus’ provinces had been granted to him as an individual, and when he died his authority over those provinces ceased to exist.
Tiberius could not automatically inherit them.
The most important function of the consular motion will have been to provide Tiberius with a sphere in which to exercise the powers he already held by conferring on him the province once bestowed on Augustus.
But good ol’ Tibbo – said “But I don’t want the pressure!”
Like he did before he went into self-imposed exile, all those years ago, he complained that the work was too much.
He was 56!
No single man could do the job – except, of course, Augustus, but come on – he was a god.
Tibbo argues that it was too much for one man and they should divide the job among a group of men.
Which, you’ll remember, is kind of what Augustus had also believed.
He wanted to set up a small council to take over when he was gone.
But they all fucking died.
Then things got nasty.
Tibbo sighed and said “look I don’t want the job – but I’ll accept whatever part you think is reasonable.”
Asinius Gallus spoke up and asked “Well what part *do* you want?”
And there was an uncomfortable silence.
Tibbo already didn’t like this guy because he had married Tibbo’s ex-wife, Vipsania, when Augustus had forced him to divorce her so he could marry the filthy whore Julia.
So this guy is banging the love of his life – and now he has the temerity to embarrass him in front of the Senate??
Tibbo finally answered that it would be unseemly for him to make the decision.
Then a few of Gallus’s mates helped him out.
One asked just how long Tiberius intended to allow the state to remain without a head.
Another pointed out that Tibbo hadn’t actually vetoed the motion, which he had the power to do.
Finally Tibbo withdrew his objections.
And so it was settled – The poor guy had to take ALL of the power!
But he may not have got the power for life.
Suetonius tells us that he accepted power only ‘until such time as you judge it fair to grant me some repose in my old age’.
He might have got it for ten years.
Do you think it was all a farce?
That – like Julius and Augustus before him – he was just pretending not to want the power?
I don’t think it was a farce.
Let’s remember a few things about Tibbo.
He once walked away from it all for ten years because he said he was too tired and didn’t want to die on his horse – like his brother had, like Agrippa had, like so many others had.
Also – he and Drusus apparently weren’t very happy with the principate.
They had tried to convince Augustus to return the Republic.
Finally – and this is a bit of a spoiler – as we’ll see down the track – eventually Tibbo tires of being emperor and kind of walks away from the job.
He’s not a big fan of the principate, he’s in his mid-50s, and they are asking him to spend the rest of his life defending what Augustus built.