A Reluctant Leader
Tiberius had never shown any level of excitement about becoming the ruler of Rome. His mother, Livia, on the other hand, was ecstatic that her son had absolute power. There is a suggestion that Livia had a hand in the death of Augustus, but this notion appears to be speculative. Certainly, Livia wanted a share in the running of the Empire, and there is a possibility that she had Agrippa Postumus, the last surviving grandson of Augustus, murdered without Tiberius’ knowledge.
According to Cassius Dio, Livia was not content to share power with the Emperor; she wanted to take precedence over him because she had made him Emperor. Eventually, Tiberius grew tired of her interference and removed her from public affairs. There is even a suggestion that he exiled himself to get away from her. It is telling that when she died in 29 AD, Tiberius did not attend the funeral.
For a man that didn’t want to become emperor in the first place, Tiberius started in encouraging fashion. In his youth, he was an outstanding military commander and also enjoyed an excellent administrative career. By 6 BC, he was on the cusp of accepting command in the East and becoming the second most powerful man in Rome. However, he retired to Rhodes and only returned to Rome when summoned by Augustus.
Tiberius improved the civil services and strengthened Rome’s economy. Initially, he aimed to play a similar role to Augustus; Tiberius hoped to come across as the humble public servant who only wanted to serve the state. However, he lacked the self-confidence and prestige of his predecessor, and his orders came across as being rather vague. The result was confusion in the Senate. Add in Tiberius’ dour, introspective and melancholic character, and you had an emperor that quickly became unpopular with the Senate and the people.
In the increasingly paranoid mind of Tiberius, his adopted son Germanicus was becoming a threat. However, Germanicus silenced opponents of his adopted father and was vocal in his support of the Emperor. The young commander did an excellent job of dealing with the mutiny of Roman legions in Pannonia and Germania who rebelled after they didn’t receive bonuses promised by Augustus. Germanicus rallied the men and brought them on a short campaign into the Germanic territory. He invited them to take whatever booty they wanted during conquests.
The already popular Germanicus earned even more acclaim for these actions, and he celebrated a triumph in Rome in 17 AD; the first full triumph since Augustus’ in 29 BC. The following year, he was given control of the Empire’s territory in the East. However, he died suddenly in 19 AD from an illness. Some historians believe that Tiberius ordered the death of Germanicus via poisoning to ensure that his son Drusus could become the new heir. When Drusus died in 23 AD, Tiberius’ succession plans were thrown into chaos; the deaths of Germanicus and Drusus also changed the Emperor’s personality for the worse.