Tiberius: The Resentful Caesar

Tiberius: The Resentful Caesar

Tiberius: The Resentful Caesar

Tiberius: The Resentful Caesar

Excerpt

Camden Professor of Ancient History in the University of Oxford

Historians have a lot to answer for. It has become almost impossible to think of Tiberius apart from Tacitus. Hence a problem. How far does the Tacitian Tiberius correspond to fact and equity, how far is he a literary creation -- the crafty and rancorous tyrant? The rehabilitation of Tiberius has been practised for more than a century, most assiduously. Scholarly research has demonstrated (and it is clear enough) that many features were admirable in that ruler's administration of the Empire. That is not all. Bad men can be good emperors. What manner of man was Tiberius Cæsar? Perhaps the restorers, sober and diligent, have washed most of the colour off the picture.

Tiberius belonged to no ordinary family. The patrician Claudii left their stamp on many epochs in the long history of the Roman Republic. They tended to be ruthless and innovatory. Tiberius, however, with all the Claudian arrogance, was conservative and old-fashioned, as he showed in his tastes and his vocabulary: he preferred archaic words, and he had no liking for the new literary glories of Augustan Rome. An anachronism in more ways than one (and proud of it), Tiberius Cæsar was in his fifty-fifth year when he came to power. He then told his Roman Senate that his nature was set and would never change -- so long as he retained control of his faculties.

To understand the man and his predicament, it is necessary to go back a long way. Tiberius was of the opposition: doubly so, personal and political. His parents had been on the side of the Republic in the contest against the military despotism of the triumvirs. After certain vicissitudes, the boy's mother, Livia Drusilla, was annexed by one of the triumvirs, the upstart Octavian, who was . . .

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