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The Roman Empire During the Reign of Tiberius Essay

The Julio-Claudians are the four emperors that succeeded Augustus following his death in AD14. The Julio-Claudians were Roman Nobles with an impressive and significant ancestry in the Roman Empire. It was during the Julio-Claudian reign that the Roman Empire reached an optimum level of power and wealth, and has been seen as the golden age of Roman arts and literature. The beginning of the Julio-Claudian dynasty was signified by the succession of Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar, most commonly known as Tiberius, to the throne in AD14.

Tiberius appears to have been the most capable and experienced of the Julio-Claudian emperors, due to his military, administrative and diplomatic abilities. He was a capable and forceful leader, who enforced justice within the government of the provinces, maintained the integrity of the frontiers, and monitored the finances of the empire. Despite his abilities, he became unpopular in Roman society, and his time as emperor has been described as a reign of terror due to his cruel nature, and the events that occurred during his reign.

The significance of Tiberius’ reign as emperor is most evident in the political, social, legal and military developments during his reign; foreign and domestic diplomacy; and the role of building programs during this period. The portrayal of Tiberius in sources, and the reliability of these sources also has an influence on the significance if his time as Princeps.

During his reign, Tiberius followed the instructions left by Augustus to not undertake any expansive foreign wars and avoid any major expansion , and chose to follow an Augustan pattern in his administration, to allow for a degree of continuity within the empire . Tiberius made two important innovations during his reign as emperor . The first was the lengthening of the tenure of provincial governors, and the second was the centralisation of the government system. Tiberius wanted the provinces to be governed by men of merit.

To allow for this, he gave permission for governors to remain in their provinces for extended periods of time . Through lengthening the provincial commands, Tiberius’ provincial governors were able to familiarise themselves with the demands of their province . Tiberius centralised the provincial administration through allowing selected governors to rule their province from Rome, much in the same way that Tiberius himself had ruled from Capri. An example of this was Aelius Lam, who governed the office legate of Syria whilst remaining in Rome for 11 years between 21 and 32 AD .

Social reforms that took place during Tiberius’ reign include the abolishment of the Consilium of Augustus; the establishment of a council consisting of friends and allies of Tiberius, and a group chosen by the Senate; and the providing of assistance to individuals to allow for them to meet the financial qualifications of the Senatorial group . Under the rule of Tiberius, Rome did not fight in any wars or conflicts, to ensure that the emperor was able to devote himself to govern the empire efficiently. He also ensured that the provinces were not given any further burdens, and that they were secure from the greed of their governors .

Tiberius’ attempt to follow the example of the Augustan rule is seen in the foreign policy that was implemented during his time as princeps. Similarly to Augustus, the newly elected princeps wanted to keep Rome at peace through the limitation of activities of the army to defend the Empire’s frontiers. Tiberius was also the Julio-Claudian emperor who was responsible for the introduction of the treason trials (Maiestas). The main concern of this policy for both ancient and modern historians was not the policy itself, but rather the application to the Roman people, especially the Senatorial classes.

The treason trials were often misused in order to remove potential threats to the princeps. This misuse resulted in the reign of Tiberius becoming known as the ‘reign of terror’ . After the death of Augustus, Tiberius recognised that the true source of imperial power was the army, and it’s constitutional function with the Senate. According to Tacitus, he gave orders to the praetorian cohorts and wrote to the provincial armies without “any hesitation except when it was his turn to speak in the Senate” . The army then began to have a larger role in not only the events within the empire, but within the empire itself.

During his reign, Tiberius provided reliable military leadership and cultivated ties with legions. His success as a military commander stands in contrast to the inexperience of his successors, who suffered from a lack of confidence in themselves and suspicion of the military talent of others . Domestic and foreign diplomacy played an important role in the reign of Tiberius. For the first ten years, Tiberius’ rule was balanced and fair. The provinces benefited from this rule because he recognised efficient and honest governors and left them in their posts for several years.

This continuity enabled the provincials to flourish under governors who did not use extortion to make themselves wealthy, but in the longer term the policy numbered the careers of equestrians and senators . Relying more on diplomacy than military force, the empire reached an unprecedented peak of peace and prosperity . According to the historian Velleius Paterculus, there was a “narrow margin between the preservation of stability and the possible descent into chaos. But there was no war, no chaos, and no opposition from the Senate, the Praetorian Guard or the people” during the reign of Tiberius.

From the beginning of Tiberius’ reign, Tiberius tried to give the senate an equal role with himself in government. He increased the senate’s functions, giving it the power to conduct elections, and widening its power as a court of law. The Senate chose to allow Tiberius to hold the reign of government, while it supported itself with the trappings of stature and wealth . Tiberius took part in senatorial proceedings but only succeeded in making senators ill at ease, as he did when he sat in during court hearings.

Tiberius did not wish to dominate, even to the point of accepting opinions contrary to his own, but since he did not always make his wishes clear, and worse still was sometimes inconsistent, the senators lost confidence and became either apathetic or far too familiar with the Emperor . According to Suetonius, Tiberius believed that a “good and helpful ruler should be at the service of the Senate and all citizens” . However, a power imbalance between the Senate and the Emperor caused confusion amongst the Senators, who were unsure of the amount of autonomy and participation the Tiberius desired from the Senate .

The cooperation between Tiberius and the Senate ended in the thirties, either due to Tiberius’ growing disappointment in the Senate’s hesitant behaviour, or because of Tiberius’ increasing suspicions . Throughout his term, Tiberius showed to favour the members of the Optimate class, the ancient families of noble descent. Tiberius promoted these families to high office positions, gave them important commands, and in return they gave him their support and he was never faced with rebellions from ambitious noble families. This support of nobility did cause resentment rom newer members of the Senate .

Tiberius was constantly on guard against the waste of public funds. He curbed the activities of the tax farmers, and collected most of the state revenue through his own officials . Following the death of his son Drusus, Tiberius became withdrawn from the affairs of the empire, and gave Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard, an increasing amount of authority . In 27AD, Tiberius went on an expedition to South Italy. Here he stopped at the Isle of Capri. Although it was only intended to be a short visit, Tiberius remained at Capri until his death.

He continued to administer the empire through dispatches. However, he often hesitated on making important decisions, and the Senate became even more dependent on him . In Tiberius’ absence, Sejanus became even more powerful. He appointed his own nominees to vacant military commands, and was able built up a powerful background of support. Soon he was the virtual ruler of Rome, with Tiberius being emperor in name only . Tiberius aimed to pay close attention to administration of the provinces, and was responsible for the reorganisation of the administration in the east when three client kings died .

The Kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene were made provinces and Cilicia was incorporated into the provinces of Syria. He also strengthened the frontiers in south east Europe by combining the senatorial provinces of Achaea and Macedonia into an Imperial province. Tiberius insisted on absolute honesty and devotion to duty from all his provincial governors. He kept strict watch over his officials, and encouraged local organisations to report any examples of mismanagement . Tiberius had permanent military bases built along the Rhine and Danube.

This was done in an attempt to strengthen the frontiers of the Roman Empire . Tiberius believed that if the rebellious tribes in Danube were left to the internal disturbances of their own, they would eventually turn against themselves. To ensure that this did not happen, Tiberius employed a native leader, Catualda, to watch over the upper Danube on the behalf of the Romans . The Danube was further strengthened in 15AD, when Achaea and Macedonia were made imperial provinces, and the two kings in the lower Danube area were replaced by a Roman .

The Danube was also strengthened by the improvement of roads and river fleets . The Julio-Claudian Emperors inherited the task of managing the physical growth of the Roman Empire, and they used building programs of this period as a principle tool to meet the needs of the empire. The Julio-Claudians constructed temples, basilicas and monuments in order to showcase their power within the empire. As a result of these building programs, the Roman Empire gained greater power, and were no longer threatened by foreign powers.

After the creation of a strong government, the political symbolism was shown through the various building programs that took place . The Julio-Claudians contributed significant building programs to the Roman empire; many of these programs were for the purpose of propaganda, religion, employment pleasure or pride. However despite the importance of building programs, Tiberius constructed very few building programs during his reign as he preferred to spend the empire’s money on repairing structures that were already in existence, and to develop new road systems within Spain and Gaul .

Of the few buildings programs that went ahead during this period the most significant include the Palatine Hill Palace which was later expanded during the reign of Tiberius’ successor Gaius Caligula, The Arch of Tiberius, and the restoration of the Temple of Concord . The Arch of Tiberius was built in AD16 to commemorate the victory of Germanicus over German tribes, and is an example of a structure that was funded by the emperor for propaganda purposes. As only an emperor was able to celebrate a triumph within the empire, the victory of Germanicus is seen as a victory for Tiberius .

Tiberius’ Temple of Concord, dedicated to the Roman Goddess Concordia, is an example of a building program that represented a return to traditional values within the empire . Accounts and sources from ancient writers, such as Tacitus, are often biased and offer conflicting perspectives . Tiberius is often regarded by sources as misanthropic, abrupt, and perpetually suspicious of potential rivals and imminent plots. Tacitus presents Tiberius’ first dealings with the Senate in vivid episodes with mutual distrust, double-bluffing, and evasive statements from both parts .

However, Tacitus’ treatment of Tiberius can be seen as excessively harsh, and Tacitus has been criticised for his portrayal of Tiberius as a tyrant . The surviving tradition of Tiberius is that he was consistently hostile. This view is reflected in not only the writings of Tacitus, but also those from Suetonius and Cassius Dio . Modern assessments of Tiberius’ reign are influenced by the authoritative narrative of Tacitus, and to a lesser extent, Suetonius and Cassius Dio . Modern historians have concentrated less on Tiberius’ sensational idiosyncracies, and more on the political and military history of his reign.

When Augustus died, the Roman world was without a leader, and was potentially at risk of another power struggle and possible civil war . Another source from the time of Tiberius’ reign, Velleius Paterculus, praises Tiberius and his military accomplishments, especially those in Germany, and saw a level of continuity between the Republic and Augustus’ Principate. His perspective of monarchy was not tainted by the abuses of Caligula and Nero, or by that of the civil wars that followed Nero’s death. Valleius’ account has allowed for a more balanced appraisal of Tiberius and his time as Emperor .


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